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The Language of William Shakespeare
How many words are there in the English language?
The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains entries for about 750,000 words.
How many words did Shakespeare use?
Shakespeare used 31,534 words in his works. (Most adults have the vocabulary of 20,000-35,000 words though only about 5,000-8,000 words are actively used).
What language did Shakespeare speak?
Old English Faeder ure thu eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod. Tobecume thin rice. Gewurthe thin willa on eorthan swa swa on heofonum. Do you think you know what it means?
Middle English Oure fadir that art in heuenes, halwid be thi name; thi kyngdom cumme to; be thi wille don as in heuen and in erthe; gif to us this day ouer breed oure substaunce; and forgeue uo us oure dettis as we forgeue to oure dettours. Does this one make a little more sense?
Early Modern English (1611) Our father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread; and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation …
Modern English Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours. Now and forever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer 1549 King James Bible 1611
Spelling No standardized spelling; Shakespeare Shake-speare Shakspeare Shakespere Shakespear Shak-speare Shakspear Shakspere Shaksper Shakespheare
Spelling The Elizabethan alphabet contained 24 letters, as opposed to the present day alphabet of 26 letters; - In the Elizabethan alphabet the letters "u" and "v" were the same letter as were "i" and "j";
Spelling The "j" was usually used as the capital form of the letter "i" in the Elizabethan alphabet; The letter "u" was used only in the middle of a word, and the "v" was used at the beginning.
Spelling - Another letter which resembled a "y" (a thorn) was used to represent the "th" sound. The word "the" was therefore written as "ye“; - Numbers were frequently written in lower case Roman numerals, with the last "i" in a number written as a "j". For example - viij March;
Spelling Letter “e” was often omitted and replaced with an apostrophe (despis’d – dispised), A lot of words were contracted: 'tis ~ it is, th’ ~ the, o'er ~ over, ne'er ~ never, i' ~ in, e'er ~ ever, oft ~ often, e'en ~ even
“If thou art privy to the country’s fate…” “...the throne of Denmark to thy father” “By heaven I charge thee, speak” “As thou art to thyself”
Grammar (Verb Forms)
- If thou lovest me - sayst thou so thou rememb’rest thou told’st me Shouldst thou be if thou didst Whither wilt thou lead me
Grammar (Verb Forms) Present Tense Past Tense Now You - were had would could should did Then Thou - wast hadst wouldst couldst shouldst didst
Grammar (Sentences) - Shakespeare often changed the word order in sentences: “These babes for Clarence weep” “So frowned he once”
Vocabulary - Words that no longer exist in the English language; - Words that now have a different meaning;
Vocabulary still = always, soft = slowly, an = if, perforce = you must, ay = yes, fain = gladly, anon = at once, wherefore= why
Vocabulary Shakespeare coined a lot of new words and phrases: Words: "advertising", "assassination", "bedazzled", "eventful", "eyesore", "fortune-teller“, "outbreak", "quarrelsome", "radiance", "reclusive", "unreal", "well-read", "watchdog" …
Vocabulary Phrases: - All that glitters is not gold (The Merchant of Venice) - Bated breath (The Merchant of Venice) Dead as a doornail (2Henry VI) Too much of a good thing (As You Like It)
Vocabulary Phrases: - For goodness' sake (Henry VIII) - Good riddance (Troilus and Cressida) Laughing stock (The Merry Wives of Windsor) Break the ice (The Taming Of The Shrew)
Vocabulary Phrases: - Love is blind (Merchant of Venice) - Naked truth (Love's Labours Lost) - Own flesh and blood (Hamlet) Wild-goose chase (Romeo and Juliet)
1. Blank verse unrhymed lines with an arrangement of unstressed and stressed syllables known as iambic pentameter “ In sooth I know not why I am so sad” (from The Merchant of Venice)
2. Variations on metre to make his verse less monotonous, Shakespeare: altered the pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables “that this too sullied flesh would melt” (from ‘Hamlet’)
2. Variations on metre to make his verse less monotonous, Shakespeare: altered the expected number of syllables “There’s nothing ill can dwell in such a temple” (from ‘The Tempest’)
2. Variations on metre to make his verse less monotonous, Shakespeare: divided a single line between two or more speakers Emilia: Why, would not you? Desdemona: No, by this heavenly light! (from Othello)
3. Use of verse and prose Verse generally used: by aristocratic characters in serious or dramatic scenes Prose generally used: by lower-class characters in comic scenes in informal conversations
4. Metaphors and similes “There’s daggers in men’s smiles” (from ‘Macbeth’)
4. Metaphors and similes “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath ” (from ‘The Merchant of Venice’)
5. Antithesis “Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate, O anything, of nothing first created: O heavy lightness, serious vanity” (from ‘Romeo and Juliet’) The contrast of direct opposites.
6. Repetition “Oh horrible, oh horrible, most horrible!” (The Ghost in ‘Hamlet’) Repeated words or phrases add to the emotional intensity of a scene:
6. Repetition “O night, O night, alack, alack, alack, I fear my Thisbe’s promise is forgot! And thou, O wall, O sweet, O lovely wall.” (from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’) Repeated words or phrases add to the comic effect:
7. Hyperbole “Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur! Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!” (from ‘Othello’) Extravagant and obvious exaggeration :
7. Personification “Come, civil Night; Thou sober-suited matron all in black.” (from ‘Romeo and Juliet’)
8. Irony Verbal irony Saying one thing but meaning another Dramatic irony It is structural: one line or scene contrasts sharply with another The audience knows something that a character on stage does not In Julius Caesar, Mark Antony calls Brutus “an honourable man” but means the opposite In Macbeth Duncan’s line “He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust” is followed by the stage direction “Enter Macbeth”
9. Pronouns: you and thee You Implies either closeness, friendship or contempt Used to address someone of higher social rank Can be aggressive or insulting Thee More formal and distant form Suggests respect for a superior Courtesy to a social equal Send clear social signals
Enjoy reading Shakespeare!