Shakespeare’s Sound Government: Sound Defects, Polyglot Sounds, and Sounding Out


The ungovernability of sound in Shakespeare is reflected in the multiple meanings of the word itself, which include the senses of whole or undiseased, and of fathoming or sounding out. This instability is also the source of many aurally generated meanings that have been lost to us through the standardizing editorial traditions of print. This essay sounds out some of these suppressed meanings and locates them within the broader social context of the polyglot communities of early modern London, which were responsible for the macaronic character of Shakespeare’s language. In doing so, Parker shows that puns should not be dismissed as mere verbal quibbles but rather help to reveal the broader cultural associations of the plays. Sound effects are, therefore, integral to meaning, and the aural dimension of Shakespeare’s language is a vital resource both for the editor and for the cultural historian.

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