The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0326 Wednesday, 19 April 2006
Date: Tuesday, 18 Apr 2006 09:28:36 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 17.0315 WordHoard
Comment: Re: SHK 17.0315 WordHoard
Shakespeare was of course familiar with Chaucer (for example, Feste's
alias of 'Sir Thopas' in 'Twelfe Night' would be a great coincidence
indeed if Shakespeare had not read 'The Canterbury Tales'), and many
words in common usage in Chaucer's time were still current in
Shakespeare (including most of Chaucer's bawdy and taboo words). I
think familiarity with Chaucer can lead to a richer and fuller
understanding of Shakespeare.
Other words used by Chaucer were already archaic or well on their way to
being obsolete at the turn of the seventeenth century; it is also
helpful to recognize these. Where Shakespeare uses them, it seems he is
deliberately trying to be old-fashioned... perhaps akin to speakers of
modern English using the 'thou' form of address or saying 'aye' instead
For example, the words 'eke' (also), 'hight' (named, called), and
'sinister' (left) are common in Chaucer but rare in Shakespeare. I
think Elizabethan hearers would have had no difficulty comprehending
these words but would have received them as old-fashioned. Has anyone
done in-depth examination of individual words in context?
When all is said and done, there are only two and a half centuries
between the two, and the core essentials of any given language are very
slow to change. If endowed with a time machine, circa Y2K English
speakers would have no real problems communicating with those who lived
in AD 1750, or vice versa (excluding words such as 'e-mail' and 'cell
phone', of course).
- Stephie Kydd
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