07 October 2015

An Analysis of the Language of Macbeth [Part 5]



The British isles are the home to a vast array of beautiful dialects. The modern forms are descendants but not duplicates of those that would have been found in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan times. The pronunciation of many words has evolved since then.

A few of these are particularly noteworthy because of the rhymed phrases in the play. Heath, for example, was pronounced as “heth” (or a slightly elongated e as in the modern get). Thus it rhymed with Macbeth in the Weird Sisters’ initial prophecy. Babe was pronounced as “bab” and thus rhymed with drab.

Historically, fear had two pronunciations. The first and more common one matched the modern pronunciation. But it was also acceptable to pronounce it to rhyme with fair (which one can easily connected to a modern heavy Scottish brogue). This becomes key when Macbeth himself says the word fair, and Banquo replies with, “Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear Things that do sound so fair?” It is an interesting pun.

Another lost rhyme is found in the play’s final couplet: “So thanks to all at once, and each to one, Whom we invite to see us crowned at Scone.” Here one would be pronounced to rhyme with own. And with that accent, the play concludes.

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Here are the other posts from the series:


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