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Language of William Shakespeare. “This isn’t even English.” . How to Read Like an Elizabethan . Do not pause at the end of a line unless the punctuation calls for it Read it like prose Read the footnotes to understand allusions Keep a dictionary handy. It’s not “Old English” (800 AD).

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Language of william shakespeare

Language of William Shakespeare

“This isn’t even English.”

How to read like an elizabethan
How to Read Like an Elizabethan

  • Do not pause at the end of a line unless the punctuation calls for it

  • Read it like prose

  • Read the footnotes to understand allusions

  • Keep a dictionary handy

It s not old english 800 ad
It’s not “Old English”(800 AD)

  • Shakespeare did NOT write in “Old English”

  • Old English is the language of Beowulf:

    • Hwaet! We Gardena in geardagum

    • ÞeodcyningaÞrymgefrunon

    • Hu ðaæÞelingasellenfremedon!

  • Hey! We have heard of the glory of the Spear-Danes in the old days, the kings of tribes, how noble princes showed great courage!

Old english translation
Old English Translation

Faeder urethueart on heofonum, si thin namagehalgod. Tobecume thin rice. Gewurthe thin willa on eorthanswaswa on heofonum.

It s not middle english 1320 1384
It’s not “Middle English”(1320-1384)

  • Middle English is the language of Chaucer, the Gawain-poet, and Malory:

    • We redeth oft and findeth y-write—

    • And this clerkeswele it wite—

    • Layes that ben in harping

    • Ben y-founde of ferli thing… (Sir Orfeo)

Middle english translation
Middle English Translation

Oure fadir that art in heuenes, halwid be thi name; thikyngdomcumme to; be thiwille don as in heuen and in erthe; gif to us this day ouer breed ouresubstaunce; and forgeueuo us ouredettis as we forgeue to ouredettours …

It is early modern english
It IS “Early Modern English”

  • EME was not very different from “Modern English”, except for a few things

  • Modern English: you can be singular or plural

  • EME: Thou = singular, ye = plural

    • Thou = intimate/personal or for higher classes to address lower classes

    • You = formal language + addressing those of power

  • Beginning about 200 years before Shakespeare, and largely complete by his day, long vowel pronunciation shifted: ex: good, name, life

Modern english translation
Modern English Translation

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 …

Unique words
Unique Words

  • Critical

  • Majestic

  • Dwindle

  • Fashionable

  • Embrace (as a noun)

  • Vulnerable

Unique phrases
Unique Phrases

  • one fell swoop

  • flesh and blood

  • vanish into thin air

  • pomp and circumstance

  • seen better days

  • a sorry sight

  • neither rhyme nor reason

  • full circle

  • dead as a doornail

  • for goodness sake

  • green-eyed monster

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", if your lost property has vanished into thin air, if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered

from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, laughed yourself into stitches, if you have too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare!”

1 unusual sequence of words
1. Unusual Sequence of Words

  • I ate the Big Mac.

    • Ate the Big Mac I.

    • I the Big Mac ate.

    • Ate I the Big Mac.

    • The Big Mac I ate.

    • The Big Mac ate I.

2 clauses that delay action
2. Clauses that Delay Action

On the Channel Nine late show at twelve o’clock, while eating pistachio ice cream, before turning to homework, Ralph saw Martha.

3 troublesome omissions
3. Troublesome Omissions

If that call’s for me, (say)I’m not home.

(If you) do that to me again, you’re in deep (trouble).

1 thou thee and thy
1. Thou, Thee, and Thy

You, You, and Your

Example: “Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit, Wilt thou not Jule?”

Translation: You will fall backward when you have more wit, Will you not, Jule?

2 inversion
2. Inversion

Shakespeare will invert the verb and the subject

Example: “Went I to Bellamine” instead of “I went to Bellarmine”

Example: “Then dreams he of another’s benefice”

Translation: He dreams of another’s benefice.

3 diction
3. Diction

1. He uses words that no longer exist in English we speak

2. He uses words that mean something differently than what they mean now

3. He uses words that are in our language, but we still don’t know their definition. Dictionary!

Examples of omissions and contractions
Examples of Omissions and Contractions

'tis ~ it is

ope~ open

o'er ~ over

gi' ~ give

ne'er ~ never

i' ~ in

e'er~ ever

oft ~ often

e'en~ even


Finish Elizabethan real estate listing with group

Begin working on “How To Read Shakespeare” instructional pamphlet


In your groups, translate each Shakespearean quote –

Your translation must be in your own words!