Shakespeare’s Names: A Pronouncing Dictionary. By Helge Kökeritz. Yale University Press. 1959. xvi + 100 pp.

This review by JWL appeared in English Studies Vol. XLVI June 1965.

This modest little volume by the late Professor Kökeritz, though it unfortunately for the most part omits the materials on which he based his conclusions, is very welcome. It is directed to ‘the general reader, and above all to teachers, students and actors’ as ‘a guide to the pronunciation of the proper names in Shakespeare’s works’. It offers in the well-known Daniel Jones ‘EPD’ transcription both the British and the American current versions of the names and ‘the approximate pronunciation’ of them ‘in Shakespeare’s own day, as an aid to the student of his language and prosody’, all their ‘prosodically and historically significant variants’ being recorded with ‘precise references’ to the plays etc. Several particularly interesting and problematical names are discussed at some length in the introduction.

Quite a few curious points come to light, as for instance that Shakespeare, in the author's opinion, rhymed Lear with bear and pronounced Othello with no regard to the h of the spelling. Also that the trisyllabic pronunciation of Henry ‘carried no stigma of vulgarity’ and that [dʒɑːdʒ] for George had none of the comic rustic effect it has for us.

Although on the whole the claim of the book to be ‘a reliable guide’ can be upheld, certain infelicities of expression (e.g. the non sequitur at Similarity on p. 15, the choice of the word vacillation on p. 21) and a fair number of inconsistencies and omissions do leave one with the impression that the author lacked the time for a thorough revision of his text. Particularly unfortunate are the apparently conflicting explanations of the use of A+ with regard to the relative currencies of British and American variants on pp. 11 and 14. A disturbing omission from the explanations is any comment on the differential use of [ɑː] and [ɑ] which latter is to be found in the Shakespearian forms of some words spelt wa- and in the modern form of Amurath where it must be a lapse (repeated on p. 6) into the Kenyon-Knott system of transcription. Another unhappy debt to the same source is presumably to be seen in the absurdity of showing separate American forms of e.g. Florizel, Laplan and Montague differing from the British only by the indication of secondary stresses. Daniel Jones very wisely decided not to show such subordinate stresses. Kenyon and Knott chose to show them, fully acknowledging their extreme variability and that the choice of when to show them would be ‘largely conventional’. They are quite out of place in the present book, where moreover they are to be found on the last syllable of Philomel (so in Kenyon and Knott) but not on that of Pimpernel (a word not in Kenyon and Knott), and not on that of Maidenhead (unlike Kenyon and Knott).

A good deal of confusion enters into the handling of the group names like Bassanio and Gonzago with regard to which the author refers on p. 19 to its being ‘impossible to say whether Shakespeare used [aː] or [æː] in them. This remark at first seemed so academic a consideration as to be hardly worth making in a book whose ‘aim is purely practical’, as it has no effect on the present-day choice of phonemes, at least for British speakers. However, examination of the five items given as examples in the body of the book confirmed that the author had intended to say that the Shakespearian possibilities lay between the above and [æ], given under Montano and there only, and also [eː], the equivalent in his transcription of modern [ei], which is shown under Bassanio alone! Although there are more than a dozen such words no cross-reference back to this general discussion of the type is made in the text except at Romano. And while Messala very warrantably has a question-mark after its variants, apparent confidence is shown at the others mentioned above and at Adriana, Adriano, Ballario, Cesaria, Cleopatra, Gratiano, Guiana, Leonato, Pisanio and Titania.

One is hardly disposed to quarrel with the decision not to show separate Shakespearian pronunciations where the differences involved were the regular correspondences of modern [ɑːr, ei, ou] to Elizabethan [aːr, eː, oː] respectively. But if so why not say once for all that present [ai, au] correspond to Elizabethan [əi, əu], if not that [iər, ɛər, uər] were [iːr, ɛːr, uːr]. The older forms are, presumably accidentally, omitted at Fife and Byzantium. Even more one wonders what ‘purely practical’ purpose is served by the inclusion of original-language pronunciations of many words from Latin, French, Italian and Spanish.

Other shortcomings in the body of the book turn out to be fairly numerous. Professor Kemp Malone in the Shakespeare Quarterly No. XI pointed out numbers of them with regard to the record of the American items. Many more can be listed for the British. Particularly, common variants are often omitted, many of them to be found in Jones. These include the now-usual [einə]-forms of Aliena and Labiena, forms other than with [ɔː] of Augustus, Aurora and Austria, variants of Caithness (which is actually used as an example of how variants will be arranged, p. 12!), the conservative [ɔː] in Cross and Gloucester which is not denied to Froth, the common nonpalatalised variants of Brabantio, Decius, Placentio, Tenatius etc and various variants of Dogberry, Greenwich, Lincoln, Mariana, Parolles etc. Erpingham with final [hæm] should hardly be displayed as a British form. Disyllabic forms of Cicely and Nicholas are not obsolete in Britain. Jones’s opinion that the usual British form of Iachimo begins [iˈæ] is ill-advisedly contradicted. At Petrarch he shows only the form which Jones rightly classifies as old-fashioned. Sagittary is given only a pronunciation which would certainly not be the more likely version to be heard in Britain, and one is truly startled to see a [θ] form given as an RP variant of Anthony.[PS 2015 Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary now regards such forms as 'RP' subvariants.]

Actual inaccuracies are not numerous, though the transcriptions of Brutus, Surio and La Pucelle need correction, as apparently do the Elizabethan versions of Armenia, Lycaonia and Brute (at the second variant of this vocative whose current form, which is [ˈbruːtei], is omitted). The common confusion in printed phonetic texts of [e] and [ə] is found at Adriano de Armado, Alexander, Comagene, Mesopotamia and Porpentine. The italicising of ‘American-only’ r has been forgotten at Morton and Saint George. Brittany is mis-spelt on p. 25. Typographical anomalies occur at Alençon, Angelica, Britaigne and Thaisa.

The comment at Coventry clearly shows that the two forms given have been transposed. All three occurrences of Crosby Place show that a stress should be marked for the latter word. Froissart is now usually [ˈfrwæsɑː], not the old-fashioned form which is the only one he gives. Bolingbroke is now often [ˈbouliŋbrouk]. Professor Harold Orton is quoted as of the opinion that the general pronunciation of Iago is now [jaːgou]. This is surprising: it does not seem to be the one used in the current National Theatre production for instance. Juliet has not been given a variant with final [et] though the author himself in his parent volume to the present, Shakespeare’s Pronunciation, refers to a rhyme with ‘set’ (p. 269). With regard to the variant with [j] of Lewis, Professor Malone’s opinion that this form is almost non-existent in America can be matched for Britain — a point on which I may perhaps be permitted to claim exceptional opportunities to have made observations. Orpheus should have been shown as having [-iəs] as well as [-juːs]. The presumably accidental different ordering of the variants of -shire in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire only as more often having [-ʃə] than [-ʃiə], is in fact probably nearer the truth than at the other entries with the suffix.

Turning to the Shakespearian pronunciations again I should in conclusion like to make a few suggestions towards a future revision. Beaumont, and perhaps also Beaufort, must still have had a variant with [biː] in Shakespeare’s time: the Cumberland place of that name still apparently has it. (See Ekwall, Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names.) Likewise Cromwell would still have had the variant type [krʌml] as the Nottinghamshire village is shown to have in the English Place-Name society’s volume. (The surname Crummles was no doubt not an invention on Dickens’s part.) The suggestion of a form with [-doːr] of Glendower, which corresponds to the Welsh Glyndwr, is borne out by a comparison of the name of the place near Swansea called Landore which has a Welsh form Glandwr.[1] It is surprising that Kökeritz did not suggest a Shakespearian variant [ˈhaːrfərd] for Hereford. Spellings of the type Harford are certainly on record for the period. His suggestion based on a 1644 spelling book that Jesus may have had [eː] is corroborated by its existence in some present Irish dialects. The very common orthographical variant of the period Moyses is surely evidence of such a pronunciation: the type survives as a surname. The variant [ˈpeskəd] posited for Peasod can be confirmed from the Windsor road-name listed by Jones. The Essex place-name Rochford may well have been [ˈrɔːtʃfərd] if Ekwall (op. cit.) is right about the origin of its first element. Scarlet would certainly also have had the ending [ət] as the OED -ot spellings for the period indicate. Saunder must also have had a form with [æː] such as is given under its full form Alexander. The only omission I have noticed is of Seville which would have been [ˈsiv(i)l], as the author himself observes in the parent work on p. 99. As he considered that the th of Arthur, Katherine and Thuria might well have been treated as merely a t, it is surely not justifiable to omit the indication of this possibility at Elizabeth, Thebes, Theseus, Thetis, Thisbe etc. Hardly unusually timid of conjecture, Kökeritz yet, in commenting that the Folio spellings Vemchie, vencha of Venice ‘suggest some kind of Anglicisation’, forbears to guess what. Surely something like [ˈveniʃ]. This would imply the highly probable existence of the adjectival forms [ˈveniʃən] for Venetian, very close parallels with the forms of venison which has relatively recently regained a trisyllabic pronunciation whatever most dictionaries may still show as its ‘only’ current form.

In short then, this little book, despite all its blemishes, is an indispensable addition to the meagre list of those dealing with English personal names. Could we suggest to the Oxford University Press that the Oxford Dictionary New Supplement editorial team should, when the work in hand is completed, turn their attentions to producing the much-needed dictionary of names that would treat them as thoroughly as the great OED has recorded the rest of our language?

1 Cf. J. T. Jones, ‘Shakespeare’s Pronunciation of Glendower’, English Studies. XLII (1962) 248-252. — R.W. Zandvoort (ed.).