Shakespeare’s Language

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A brief explanation of how to understand Shakespearean English.

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Shakespeare’s Language:

Shakespeare’s Language

The Elizabethans:

The Elizabethans They loved language Even poorly-written plays often rhymed and alliterated The sound of language was more important than the logic of sentence structure E.g. they changed word order or repeated words for emphasis

William Shakespeare:

William Shakespeare Introduced nearly 3,000 words into the English language His vocabulary is upward of 29,000 words (quadruple that of an average well-educated person!)

So…why is it so hard to understand?:

So… why is it so hard to understand? Reason #1: Many words have shifted meaning since Shakespeare’s day, or have fallen out of use e.g. “Artificial” used to mean full of artistic or technical skill, but now means fake or non-natural

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Reason #2: Letters, syllables, or whole words were sometimes omitted 'tis: It is o'er: over ne'er: never e'er / ere: ever oft: often e'en : even

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Reason #3: Word order was more flexible. I ate the sandwich. I the sandwich ate. Ate the sandwich I. Ate I the sandwich. The sandwich I ate. The sandwich ate I.

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Reason #4: Pronunciation was quite different from ours, so Shakespeare’s “perfect” rhymes usually are imperfect rhymes to us e.g. love / prove

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Reason #5: Shakespeare wrote in poetry most of the time, with little prose Poetry was mostly blank verse (unrhymed lines of iambic pentametre) Poetry was sometimes rhyming couplets, sonnets, etc. Poetry is usually for passages of high feeling and increased intensity Prose is often used for wit and play, or lower-status characters

Some Tips:

Some Tips Thou vs. You Thou = an informal address to use with friends or social inferiors You = a formal address to use with strangers and social superiors Forsooth! = No kidding! Marry, By my faith! = Wow! Alack, Alackaday, Alas, Fie, Out upon it! = Darn it!

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God's wounds, S'wounds, Zounds = [swearing] Prating = Babbling, talking too much Perchance = Maybe Forswear = To lie or cheat Betimes = Very early in the morning With thanks to: http://www.bardweb.net/language.html Best, Michael. Shakespeare's Life and Times . Internet Shakespeare Editions, University of Victoria: Victoria, BC, 2001-2005. <http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/>. http://www.shakespearehigh.com/classroom/guide/page1.shtml http://www.krucli.com/shakespeare_intro's.htm

Literary Devices:

Literary Devices In addition to all this, Shakespeare was highly skilled in incorporating literary devices in his writing…

What do these two passages have in common?:

What do these two passages have in common? Lord Chief Justice: "Your means are very slender and your waste great." Falstaff (an obese and self-indulgent man): "I would that my means were greater and my waist slenderer." Romeo and Juliet: Mercutio is a young man with wit and little seriousness. As he lies dying, he says: "Ask for me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man."

They both contains puns.:

They both contains puns. Lord Chief Justice: "Your means are very slender and your waste great." Falstaff (an obese and self-indulgent man): "I would that my means were greater and my waist slenderer." Romeo and Juliet: Mercutio is a young man with wit and little seriousness. As he lies dying, he says: "Ask for me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man."

What device is Shakespeare using in these passages?:

What device is Shakespeare using in these passages? "Death, death, O amiable lovely death." "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

Oxymorons.:

Oxymorons. " Death , death, O amiable lovely death." "Parting is such sweet sorrow ."

What do these passages illustrate?:

What do these passages illustrate? Shylock, a character in The Merchant of Venice , feels mistreated and says: "You foot me as you spurn a stranger cur." When Cleopatra thinks she is the victim of insincere flattery from Antony, she says: "He words me, girls, he words me."

They both use common words in original ways.:

They both use common words in original ways. Shylock, a character in The Merchant of Venice , feels mistreated and says: "You foot me as you spurn a stranger cur." When Cleopatra thinks she is the victim of insincere flattery from Antony, she says: "He words me, girls, he words me."

What do these passages illustrate?:

What do these passages illustrate? King Henry IV, who was not fat, was called "portly." In The Merchant of Venice , a servant who needs to hurry tells his mistress he will go with all "convenient" speed. When Antony makes an alliance with Octavius in Julius Caesar, he calls him his "competitor."

They use words that have changed meaning over time.:

They use words that have changed meaning over time. King Henry IV, who was not fat, was called " portly .“ (stately; imposing) In The Merchant of Venice , a servant who needs to hurry tells his mistress he will go with all " convenient " speed. (near at hand) When Antony makes an alliance with Octavius in Julius Caesar, he calls him his " competitor .“ (one who strives in common/agrees)

What are these passages examples of?:

What are these passages examples of? King Henry IV says the soil of England will no longer "daub her lips with her children's blood." In A Midsummers' Night Dream , the course of young love is described as "swift as a shadow, short as any dream, brief as lightning." In Romeo and Juliet , Romeo says, "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun."

They all use metaphors.:

They all use metaphors. King Henry IV says the soil of England will no longer "daub her lips with her children's blood.” In A Midsummers' Night Dream , the course of young love is described as "swift as a shadow, short as any dream, brief as lightning." In Romeo and Juliet , Romeo says, "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun."