In 2008, a troubled Vietnam veteran turned struggling actor named Hamilton Meadows became obsessed with a question: What did William Shakespeare’s English sound like when the Bard and his actors spoke it? Others had asked the same thing before—the quest to piece together the pronunciation of Elizabethan English, the language as it was spoken during Shakespeare’s lifetime, has captivated English scholars, theater directors, and romantic adventurers for two hundred years.
But if Meadows wasn’t the first such seeker, he was undoubtedly the least likely among them. Thrice-divorced and drinking too much, he was living off of military disability checks aboard a derelict yacht. For Meadows, staging the first-ever professional “original pronunciation” production of Shakespeare’s work in New York City would become one last shot at redemption after a lifetime of tragedy.
Daniel Fromson is a copy editor for the website of The New Yorker. His writing has also appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, New York, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Washington Monthly.
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