Insights - Romeo and Juliet

  • Shakespeare: Words, Words, Words

  • By S. S. Moorty

  • Profile Picture of G. B. Harrison in Insights - Romeo and Juliet

    G. B. Harrison

    “No household in the English-speaking world is properly furnished unless it contains copies of the Holy Bible and of The Works of William Shakespeare.

  • It is not always thought that these books should be read in maturer years, but they must be present as symbols of Religion and Culture”

  • (G.B. Harrison, Introducing Shakespeare. Rev. & Exp. [New York: Penguin Books, 1991], 11).

  • S. S. Moorty

    We, the Shakespeare-theater goers and lovers, devotedly and ritualistically watch and read the Bard’s plays not for exciting stories and complex plots.

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  • Rather, Shakespeare’s language is a vital source of our supreme pleasure in his plays.

  • Contrary to ill-conceived notions, Shakespeare’s language is not an obstacle to appreciation, though it may prove to be difficult to understand.

  • Instead, it is the communicative and evocative power of Shakespeare’s language that is astonishingly rich in vocabulary— about 29,000 words— strikingly presented through unforgettable characters such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, Othello, Rosalind, Viola, Iago, Shylock, etc.

  • S. S. Moorty

    In the high school classroom, students perceive Shakespeare’s language as “Old English.”

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  • Actually, Shakespeare’s linguistic environment, experience, and exposure was, believe it or not, closer to our own times than to Chaucer’s, two hundred years earlier.

  • Indeed, the history and development of the English language unfolds as follows:

  • Old English, 449-1100;

  • Middle English 1100-1500;

  • and Modern English 1500-present.

  • S. S. Moorty

    Shakespeare was firmly in the Modern English period.

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  • S. S. Moorty

    At the time Shakespeare wrote, most of the grammatical changes from Old and Middle English had taken place; yet rigid notions about “correctness” had not yet been standardized in grammars.

    Profile Picture of S. S. Moorty in Insights - Romeo and Juliet
  • The past five centuries have advanced the cause of standardized positions for words; yet the flexible idiom of Elizabethan English offered abundant opportunities for Shakespeare’s linguistic inventiveness.

  • Ideally it is rewarding to study several facets of Shakespeare’s English: pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, wordplay, and imagery.

  • The present overview will, however, be restricted to “vocabulary.”