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William Shakespeare



All languages change. Differences in pronunciation and word choice are apparent even between parents and their children. If language differences can appear in one generation, imagine how different the English Shakespeare used some four hundred years ago will be from the English you use today. Here is some information on Shakespeare's language that should make Hamlet a little easier for you to understand.

Adjectives, nouns, and verbs were more adaptable in Shakespeare's day. Nouns were often used as verbs. For instance, here "shark" is used as a verb:

young Fortinbras,...
Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there,
Sharked up a list of lawless resolutes

(Act I, Scene i, lines 108-11)

Later, in Act III, Scene ii, line 13, the proper noun "Herod" is used as a verb: "It out-herods Herod."

Adjectives could be used as adverbs. In Act II, Scene ii, line 45, Claudius says: "Thou still has been the father of good news," using "still" where you would use "always."

Verbs could be used as nouns:

You shall do marvell's wisely, good Reynaldo,
Before you visit him, to make inquire
Of his behavior.

(Act II, Scene i, lines, 3-5)

There "inquire" is a noun- you would instead say "inquiry." Also, instead of "marvell's" in line 3, you would today say "marvelously."

Many of the words in Shakespeare still exist today, but their meanings have changed. The change may be small, as in the case of "modesty," which meant "moderation," as in:

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action;
with this special observance, that you o'erstep not
the modesty of nature.

(Act III, Scene ii, lines 17-19)

Or the change may be important. For instance, "disposition" meant "behavior," "doubt" meant "strongly suspect," "it likes us" meant "it pleases us," "hams" meant "thighs," "wax" meant "grow," and "complexion" meant "appearance."


[Hamlet Table of Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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