Words, Words, Words…

By Tommy Switzgable

The influence of William Shakespeare on literature, theater, and culture as a whole is astounding. How one man has been able to create such a lasting impression on the world is truly an unparalleled talent. One of the more overlooked influences that Shakespeare has had on the world is that of language. Both the language and tone that he used in all of his plays are so unique that ‘speaking Shakespearean’ is a world unto itself. Have you ever wanted to speak like a king from the 17th century? Well look no further, because here is a crash course on how to speak in Shakespearean.

Basic Grammar

Subjects of sentences are not what you think they are. For example, even the simple subject of “you” turns into “thy” or “thou”. Instead of “they” use “thine.” A man is no longer “he” or “him”, it is now “sirrah”; and a woman isn’t “she” or “her” either, she is a “mistress.” The article of “it” no longer exists; you must turn it into a contraction, always starting or ending with the letter ‘t’. The phrase “it would” becomes “t’would” and the phrase “do it” becomes “do’t.” Finally, verbs that generally end in “-ing” in modern English now end in “-eth.” Runneth, skippeth, jumpeth. You get the point.

Common Phrases

Many of the phrases that we use in modern English do not translate to the Elizabethan era English that Shakespeare used. There are no such thing as “yes’s” and “no’s” in Shakespearean dialect. If you agree with something or someone and want to say “yes”, you simply say “aye” [as in ‘aye, aye captain’]. If you disagree and want to say “no”, the common answer to that is to say “nay”. Greeting someone in the morning goes from “good morning” to “good morrow”. Asking how someone is doing goes from “how are you doing” to “how now”. Smaller words like “maybe” and “too bad” even have their own translations, with those being “mayhaps” and “well a day” respectively.

Insults

Even though he crafted some of the most magical and enticing stories in human history, one of the more overlooked aspects of Shakespeare’s language is that of his insults. Noted by many academics, comedians, and others of the like, Shakespeare was known to have an insult for any occasion, with each insult being more gruesome than the last. For example, in our own Taming of the Shrew, he writes “Away, you three-inch fool!”, an insult both to a person’s physical stature and intelligence. So if you’re looking to speak more in Shakespearean, you will need to know how to hurt a person’s feeling.

Do you think you have the hang of it?  It’s meant to be heard live onstage, not read on the page, so let us leave you with one last request: Thy and thine must be cometh to see The Taming of the Shrew, our final shows are this weekend on the Circus Lawn at Shelburne Museum!

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