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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: July ::
Grammatical "Errors" in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0379  Wednesday, 2 July 2008

From:       Jack Lynch <
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Date:       Tuesday, 1 Jul 2008 11:25:30 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:    Grammatical "Errors" in Shakespeare

Dear Folks,

I'm working on a trade book on the development of our notions of "proper" 
English, and I'd like to show that many of the "rules" we're now taught didn't 
apply before the late C17-ish. My opening gambit is to point out facetiously 
that, if Shakespeare's works were submitted in English 101 today, he'd be marked 
badly.  (For those familiar with other systems: English 101 is a common 
designation for the introductory university-level writing course.)

I'm looking for good illustrations of Shakespeare's "violation," so to speak, of 
our "rules" of grammar (and spelling, and whatever else English 101 instructors 
are supposed to monitor).  Dangling participles, sentence fragments, double 
comparatives, mixed metaphors, sentence-ending prepositions, syntax that peters 
out mid-sentence, double negatives, singular they-all that sort of thing will 
fill the bill. The point, of course, is to show that they weren't "rules" for 
Shakespeare or his age, and to help readers understand that standards of "good 
English" have changed over time.

I've turned up a bunch of examples so far, and can continue reading more or less 
without direction, hoping to come across others. But it dawns on me that someone 
must have accumulated examples like this already.

Anyone know? -- if not, does anyone have particularly extreme examples of 
Shakespeare's writing that would induce apoplexy in a humorless marker of 
English 101 essays?

[Editor's Note: If you have not already, you need to be sure to consult Jonathan 
Hope's _Shakespeare's Grammar_. (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2003. xiii + 210 
pp.), a work that I find invaluable when I have annotating Shakespeare's Poems 
for the ISE. -Hardy]

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