Shakespeare’s (and Milton’s?) Accent

As I may have mentioned on twitter, one of the seminars I am currently in is all about John Milton, and we’ve been reading Paradise Lost as well as his prose works. More recently we’ve looked at some of his early poetry, L’allegro and Il Penseroso.

One of the ways that I often learn, particularly when dealing with poetry, is by reading the text aloud as I read it. I think I’m just an auditory learner in this regard, and often the poetry was more suited for the ear than the eye, if you know what I mean. I was having difficulties with Milton’s poems as the rhyming didn’t always work out to my own ear, so I gave some thought to accents.

The UK has a broad range of accents and certainly adopting a number of them would bend the words slightly to fit a rhyme scheme better. The lines that particularly troubled me are as follows:

L’Allegro 

137-138.
“Married to immortal verse,
Such as the meeting soul may pierce”

143-144.
“Untwisting all the chains that ty
The hidden soul of harmony.”

149-150.
“Of Pluto, to have quite set free
His half regain’d Eurydice.”

Perhaps, depending on your own accent and reading of these words, you don’t have a problem with the rhyme scheme. But I do, so I recalled a video I saw of Ben Crystal describing the differences between Received Pronunciation and Original Pronunciation, in terms of Shakespeare. Give the video a listen, and see if you can imagine these rhyme scheme issues resolved based on the Original Pronunciation of these words.

What do you think? How would these words be pronounced in order to rhyme? A difficult conversation to have over text, to be sure, but something interesting to think about, for sure.

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