Acoustic World of Early Modern England, The: Attending to the O-Factor

Bruce R. Smith
We know how a Shakespeare play sounds when performed today, but what would listeners have heard within the wooden "O" of the Globe Theater in 1599? What sounds would have filled the air in early modern England, and what would these sounds have meant to people in that largely oral culture? In this ear-opening journey into the sound-worlds of Shakespeare's contemporaries, Bruce R. Smith explores both the physical aspects of human speech (ears, lungs, tongue) and the surrounding environment (buildings, landscape, climate), as well as social and political structures. Drawing on a staggeringly wide range of evidence, he crafts a historical phenomenology of sound, from reconstructions of the "soundscapes" of city, country, and court to detailed accounts of the acoustic properties of the Globe and Blackfriars theaters and how scripts designed for the two spaces exploited sound very differently. Critical for anyone who wants to understand the world of early modern England, Smith's pathbreaking "ecology" of voice and listening also has much to offer musicologists and acoustic ecologists.

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