The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0108 Monday, 18 February 2008
Date: Monday, 18 Feb 2008 18:16:21 -0600
Subject: Shakespeare's Style
For two years now, I've been trying to dissect Shakespeare's style. Now,
there are certain personal mannerisms of his-pun fetish, fondness of
animal imagery-that are useful to us in determining which works are his.
I'm interested in those, but what I'm *really* trying to discover is
what makes his style, his construction, so forth, both distinctive *and*
effective. I'm only interested in a distinct feature if it's also an
efficacious feature. I want to know why his words work so well. We can
debate exactly what "well" means, but for my purposes, "well" means
"capable of communicating the author's ideas in a striking and clear
fashion." You may have a definition of "well" superior to mine-use that
one, if that's the case.
I don't think it's one of those "mystery of genius" things either. It's
a craftsmanship issue, a technical one. Let me point out that I'm not a
scholar, but I have read many of the books that deal with this
subject-Spurgeon, Armstrong, Miriam Joseph, Spaulding, The Shakespeare
Key-and have yet to find quite what I'm looking for. They deal with
imagery or patterns of rhetoric or identifying marks of his, but don't
seem to state the nitty-gritty of what I'm looking for. Most general
guides to the Bard dodge the question altogether.
"Uses visual adjective-noun pairings" or "prefers the subjunctive" or
"applies gerunds in during tragic scenes" would be more helpful than "he
likes birds and Ovid."
On the other end is Shaxicon, which I haven't used myself. Shaxicon
would be great for my purposes, but it's (for me at least) *too*
close-up. I've read stylometric analyses online in hopes they'd have
something I could understand, and all I've gotten is that the Bard
didn't like "which" as much as "who." Which is valuable knowledge-it
recognizes that Shakespeare had a tendency to give life to inanimate
objects-but it still doesn't help to answer my question. If there's some
wider view of Shaxicon-one for a non-math layperson-let me know.
In other words, when I'm asked about what makes Shakespeare great, and I
say "the language," and they say "what about the language?", I'd like to
go beyond saying "Hendiadys." Not that rhetorical terms don't have their
place, but if simply knowing how to split "furious sound" into "sound
and fury" made a Shakespeare, then there wouldn't be so many bad writers
To offer another example of what I'm looking for, imagine Martians who
had memorized English dictionaries and grammar books came down and
wanted us to explain exactly what it was about Shakespeare's language
that makes him so remarkable, what would we tell them? Would we give
them the vague generalities that critics have often resorted
to-generosity of conception, insight into humanity, dualistic view of
world-or would we be able to be exact in how the Master does what he
does? If you were writing to this Martian, how would you explain to
her-him (Martians are dual-gendered in my example; "Twelfth Night"
eventually becomes a runaway hit on the Red Planet) the nature of
Shakespeare's text, and what makes it different, from the other writing
of the planet Earth?
If nobody has (or knows where to look for) a comprehensive answer, then
at the very least I'd be curious to hear what you think are the best
techniques of his wordcraft.
I realize this question isn't terribly exact. Maybe what I'm looking for
goes by another name that I don't know yet; maybe there's a book that
I'm just not aware of. Perhaps it's as simple as deconstructing a few
sentences. And maybe I'm being unfair to imagery and rhetoric-maybe
those *are* the main pillars of Shakespeare's verbal power and the rest
is incidental. The slightest nudge point in the right direction would be
And if nobody knows, well, could you comment on what you think this most
characteristic mannerisms are? My own list is probably woefully
incomplete. I know Our Will keeps his invention in a noted weed; I'm
just curious about the stitches and tailoring.
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