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Home School Life Journal
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales
painting by Katie Bergenholtz

Understanding Shakespearean English, Part One: Greetings, Titles and Farewells


Shakespearean English can be a stumbling block to students new to his works. Several years ago I wanted my daughter to become familiar with the language of Shakespeare so that she could get more understanding out of her readings, and to be able to read it aloud (which is the way it was meant to be read) with more confidence, so I put together these little lessons for her. Now it is time for one of my sons to use it, so I thought I would share it with you. I don't have the sources for the information any more, but the information all is readily available. We will be reading, reading aloud, writing and searching through his works.


Fenton (a gentleman): How now, good woman; how dost thou?
Mistress Quickly (a servant): The better that it please your good worship to ask.
Fenton: What news? How does pretty Mistress Anne?
-Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare

Appropriate greetings and farewells were very important to the Elizabethan.  Furthermore, Elizabethans bestowed titles upon people whom they were speaking. From the next excerpt, notice how each character greets Doctor Caius in his own way.

Host (of the Inn): Bless thee, bully doctor.
Shallow (a country Justice): Save you, Master Doctor Caius.
Master Page (a gentleman): Now, good master doctor!
Slender (cousin to Shallow): Give you good morrow, Sir.


Elizabethans employed the modern you, your, and yours as well as the now archaic thou, thee, thy and thine. In general, Elizabethans used forms of the word you to address superiors and forms of the word thou to address social equals and inferiors.

Greetings
Elizabethans did not say "hello" or "hi" we do now. They had other greeting that are easy to learn.
Give you good morrow. or  Good morrow.  means Good morning.
God give you a good day. Good day. Good den. means Good day.
Good even. Good e'en. means Good evening.
Well met. means Glad to see you.
How now? means How are you doing?

Titles
People were very aware of their place in society and they believed in the courtesy of titles. They also used them to flatter or insult. Here are some examples of titles you might see in Shakespeare's works:
Nobility, Church Bishops, Important Officials; my lord, my good lord, your worship, noble sir, good gentles (more than one)
Middle Class, Craftsmen and Merchants, Yeoman farmers, Peasants: sir, good sir, Well met, sir, Good day, sir, Master, Goodman
An elderly peasant: Father, Gaffer (grandfather)
A young man or a close friend: lad...Good day, my fine lad.
A young boy: lad, young lad, little sir, little master
Swordsman: He carries a fine sword.
Master musician: He is playing a flute...
To be moderately rude and clearly condescending: Fellow
You risk wrath: sirrah
The word Sire is used to address a king so rarely used by the Elizabethan English, who had a queen. To address her one would say...Your majesty, Your Grace, Your Most Gracious Majesty
Noblewoman: my lady, noble lady, noble madam, my good lady, good gentles (more than one)
Middle class and Yeomen wives: mistress, dear mistress, fair mistress, sweet mistress.

Mistress was a polite title making no reference to marital status.

Peasantry: all of those for the middle class plus wench, fair wench, dear wench, sweet wench, etc.

Wench simply  meant girl and was not rude.

An elderly peasant: mother, Gammer or Good Gammer (last name) (grandmother)
A young girl: little lady, little mistress, lass, sweet lass, little wench, pretty maid
By occupation: Good day, sweet milkmaid, or Good mistress weaver, etc.

Farewells
Having properly greeted someone, often they shared a brief exchange about the joys of the season, the queen's marriage prospects, their ailing cow or the like and then it was time to take leave.
I shall see you anon (shortly)
God save you. God keep you.
Fare you well.
Adieu (if French, well learned or pretentious.)

Assignment: Now might be a good time for students to just flip through a volume of Shakespeare's works and see how many of these they can find. You could also have them write a little scene in which at least two persons of two different stations meet and greet each other and have a short, casual conversation.

3 comments:

  1. thank you. We are doing Shakespeare Summer and I am printing this off to use.

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  2. We are currently working on some Shakespeare now. I plan to do like Heather and print this off, if you don't mind. This is great! I would just love it if you put all your lesson ideas on Shakespeare on here, as I am not up on studying him.
    About the postcards, I don't know exactly how to get started with them or what I need to do. Could you help me? My email is HSTraciBrooks@gmail.com I would greatly appreciate it.

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