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H.Shehab, 2015
Shakespeare’s Language
Two or three students will, as a group, write a silent conversation, addressing each other directly in the
second person. Use Shakespearean pronouns and verb inflections:
Singular Pronouns
Thou - Subject: "Thou art my brother."
Thee - Object: "Come, let me clutch thee."
Thy - Possessive Adjective: "What is thy name?" (your name)
Thine - Possessive Noun: “The pizza is thine” (yours)
Plural Pronoun
Ye - Subject: "Ye shall know me."
Verb Inflection
Elizabethan language contains verb inflections. Simply add an –est, –st or –t to second person (some
exceptions: you are becomes thou art) and add –eth or-th to third person (he hath eaten the donut)
You are lying-you bad person becomes:
"Thou liest, malignant thing."
What did you see:
"What didst thou see?"
Why can’t you see the difference:
"Why canst thou not see the difference?"
Did you drink your Coke when you were thirsty? :
Didst thou drink thy Coke when thou wast thirsty?
The silly boy has eaten his hat:
The silly wretch hath his hat eaten.
Word Order in Shakespeare’s Sentences:
As well as unfamiliar words and pronouns, students often struggle with Shakespeare’s language because of
his sentences, which follow an unusual order, usually for poetic and dramatic effect (people didn’t speak
that way). We are used to sentences being arranged in a particular way (SVO), but he sometimes rearranged
word order to create a particular rhythm, emphasize particular words or give a character a specific speech
pattern.So, as you read, you’ll notice that the subject, verb, and object do not always follow in a 1, 2, 3
order. Look at the following example (from Randal Robinson’s Unlocking Shakespeare’s Language).
I ate the pizza (S-V-O)
I, the pizza ate. (S-O-V)
Ate the pizza, I. (
Ate I the sandwich. (
The sandwich ate I. (
Rewrite the sentence below changing the word order each time (Don’t add any new words to the sentence).
Original Sentence: She passed the Brevet.
Rewrite #1: _________ _________ _________ _________.
Rewrite #2: _________ _________ _________ _________.
Look at the rewritten sentences above. Although the sentences have the same meaning, the order changes the
poetic and dramatic effect of the words (can you think why?).
A. Other Peculiarities in Shakespeare’s Language: Omissions and Contractions
Omissions: Shakespeare shortened words and often left out letters or syllables. This is used for poetic
effect-basically to create a particular rhythm/meter or rhyme.
Contemportary examples:
Been to class yet?
Heard’ bout the test?
‘tis- it is
Ope- open
i’- in
good e’en-good evening
Shakepeare’s Punny use of Puns
Definition: a "pun," or "a humorous play on words" (Visual Thesaurus definition). Some puns (like the one in the
example) are considered "homographic" or depend upon words that look alike but have multiple meanings; other puns
are considered "homophonic" or depend on words that sound the same but have different meanings (e.g., Two peanuts
were walking down the street; one was assaulted.-"assaulted" sounds like "a salted"). Puns add wit and depth to
language by changing the literal meaning of text or adding another layer of meaning.
Example: "The butcher backed up into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work."
Is it a homographic or homophonic pun? (remember phone means sound, graph means writing)
Why is the sentence above funny? Why have puns been described as “the lowest form of humor”?
Some contemporary examples:
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.
When she told me I was average, she was just being mean.
"Those who run in front of car get tired, those who run behind car get exhausted." "Those who want a
pretty nurse must be patient." "Those who eat cookie in bed wake up feeling crumby."
Work with a partner to come up with a homographic and a homophonic pun. Try to create a funny
sentence using one or more puns: