Never really got that whole Shakespeare ‘bawdy innuendo’ thing? Your English teachers might have banged on about it a bit. But chances are, they didn’t get it either. Or at least, not all of it. Turns out we’ve been pronouncing Shakespearean English all wrong.
There’s lots of evidence that suggest Shakespearean accents were totally different from today’s. Never mind your RADA-trained elocuted pronunciation. Shakespeare is supposed to be spoken with a cross between West Country, Yorkshire and Irish accents. Oo arh by gum.
As You Like It
So what does that mean for the bawdy bard? Well for a start ‘hour’ was pronounced the same as ‘whore’. Which opens up a whole line of rude puns.
‘Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ’twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.’
As You Like It Act 2 Scene 7
How do we know what the original pronunciation was? The clue is in Shakespeare’s rhyming. It just doesn’t make sense unless you pronounce it right.
Over to the Experts
Here’s a couple of linguists explaining it all in a more learned fashion than we can muster. Skip to 8.00 mins if you want to get straight to the smutty bit.