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

Understanding Shakespearean English, Part Four- Grammar and Syntax



Plurals
Most words, like today, became plural simply by adding the letter s. As a holdover from Old English, however, a few words were made plural by adding an n instead of an s, such as shoen for shoes or hosen for hoses. We still have such plurals today such as children or oxen. And to confuse things even further the singular of pea was pease and the plural was peasen. By the late Elizabethan era, the words pea and peas as we know them were used.

Possessive Nouns
Elizabethans sometimes expressed possessive forms as John his hat instead of John's hat or God his angels instead of God's angels.

Pronouns
Sometimes they used his or her where we would use its, as in If the salt has lost his savor...
Which is sometimes used for who as in Our Father which art in heaven...

Double Negatives and Superlatives
These were acceptable to many Elizabethans. Such as... We do not have no turnips to eat.
or The most unkindest cut of all.

Contractions
Although contractions were known in Elizabethan times, they often were not used. They often would say can not instead of can't. However they did use some we don't such as ain't (am not), 'tis (it is), 'twas (it was) 'twere (it were), 'twill (it will), 'twould (it would), and is't? (is it?). They also had a tendency to drop v's in words such as e'en (evening), ne'er (never) and o'er (over). They also used o' as a contraction for of, as in He was born o' Friday.

Entire Words Dropped
Sometimes they dropped entire words such as saying We will away. for We will go away. or I'll none of that. for I'll have none of that.

Syntax or Word Order
Usually the order of our simple sentences are subject, verb and object, such as Our horse was hitched to yon cart. Elizabethans might move the object and say To yon cart was our horse hitched. Or instead of He was an ancient and ill-tempered beast. they might say, He were an ancient beast and ill-tempered.
In fact, for Elizabethans almost any word can be use as almost any part of speech. They used nouns as verbs (Malice not thy anemies not glutton thyself on revenge.),  nouns as adjectives (Cease thy plague talk and coffin fears.) , adjectives as verbs, (This will green her eyes with envy and happy me most well.) and use adjectives as adverbs (Soft did she walk and quiet speak.)

Now, let's put it all together...How would you put these in modern English?
Go to! Wherefore does her majesty come hitherto? Marry, sir, thou dost but jest.
Or, for the very brave...
In sooth, doth Master Ripper prate and Master Foote prattle on with such windy smites-and begattings as to cause both lords and fishwives to fear the Sabbath. Be there no recourse Godly or otherwise against this ceaseless preachment? As it prove fatal, I die here a martyr. Brine mine ears and relic me as St. Patience, the long suffering.

2 comments:

  1. That was helpful! I will have to bookmark this post and save it for when my daughter starts reading Shakespeare. I have found that I can understand Shakespeare much easier when I watch the plays rather than read them.

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  2. I am just going to print this series. This is going to be really resourceful when Michelle learns about Shakespeare. Thank you so much for sharing and linking up.

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