The Eloquent Shakespeare
A Pronouncing Dictionary for the Complete Dramatic Works with Notes to Untie the Modern Tongue
by Gary Logan
Have you ever read one on Shakespeare’s works and not known how to pronounce a word? (If not, are you human?) Where do you normally turn? Most regular dictionaries that you might keep on your shelf only include words in modern usage; not words, names, and places that haven’t been in widespread common use in 400 years.
You could ask someone and hope they’re right. If you have a good movie or audiobook of a play you can check there and listen… but that seems like a little too much trouble for a single word.
What you need is dictionary of pronunciation (I have several) from an authoritative source. I’d say Gary Logan is one: He was the Chair of Voice and Speech at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and has worked as a voice coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, and several others.
There’s really no reason not to have a pronouncing dictionary if you’re an actor or director working on Shakespeare’s plays. You’re doing yourself, your company, and your audience a disservice by deciding not to check to see if you’re pronouncing a word correctly. Even if it’s not Shakespeare, and the play has difficult words, one should do their homework and look it up.
But why buy this one? It’s not the cheapest one out there so it had better be good. As a matter of fact, it is good. It might even be right for you — not all dictionaries are the same or right for everyone, I’ll have you know.
The Eloquent Shakespeare lists its pronunciations in Standard American Stage Dialect, a sort of “neutral” dialect that has no distinct regional features. It’s like the speech that most news anchors and classical actors employ while reading the news and speaking Shakespeare, respectively. This means that some of the common words may have a pronunciation that is different from the way you speak.
A feature that I enjoy is the fact that all the words are only transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). If you’ve learned IPA in theatre school, all the better. If you haven’t, there’s a key to each symbol at the bottom of every page. It’s not that hard to figure out.
The notes and introduction are very well done and informative, if you ever read them. Not everyone’s the type that reads an introduction to a dictionary but I suggest you always do. You’ll be happy you did — why have a tool when you don’t know how to use it properly? The dictionary seems to be complete. It even includes one of my favorites, honorificabilitudinitatubus! Rare or show specific words have the play in which they appear listed next to the headword. If it scans differently in different places there’s a note there to help you. There are even foreign language pronunciations of words and phrases. I know now how to pronounce Si fortune me tormente, sperato me contento.
My biggest complaint is the cover. It looks nice and pretty, but if I saw it on a shelf I would never know that I needed to have it. The whole cover looks like a really long title. Not a big deal, I can take off the dust jacket if needed. But don’t judge this book by its cover!
There are other pronouncing dictionaries out there for less, but if you are an actor, director, teacher, or other serious Shakespearean, I would recommend spending a little extra to get this nicely produced, authoritative, complete, hardcover (long-lasting), and easy to navigate resource.
Posted on November 9, 2009