Shakespeare's plays are famous for their rich and magical imagery: fairies in mystical woods; ancient kings, queens and emperors; witches casting spells, courageous soldiers; court jesters and swooning lovers. But Shakespeare is perhaps most admired for his experimental and inventive use of words.

Shakespeare's Language

Shakespeare was writing at a time of great cultural and intellectual development, with wonderful discoveries and innovations taking place in the fields of arts and sciences. Scholars were taking a renewed interest in classical languages, and explorers and traders were making intrepid expeditions to the New World. As a result, the English lexicon was bulging with new vocabulary.

Shakespeare therefore had a wealth of words with which to tell his tales. Words to enter the lexicon at this time include enthusiasm, skeleton, utopian, bizarre, chocolate, explore, moustache, vogue, macaroni, violin, harem, jar andmagazine.

Many of the expressions found in Shakespeare's plays are today part of our everyday language usage. These include:

At one fell swoop

I must be cuel only to be kind

Hold the mirror up to nature

Love is blind

It's Greek to me

In my mind's eye

With bated breath

Some of Shakespeare's poetic techniques:

1. Shakespeare often turned nouns into verbs, thus creating an entirely new usage.

For example:

The word 'ghost' is turned into a verb - 'Julius Caesar, I Who at Phillipi the good Brutus ghosted'

The word 'dog' is turned into a verb - 'Destruction straight shall dog them at the heels'

2. He frequently uses hyphenated compounds - connecting two words with a hyphen to create an imaginative new word.

For example





3. Shakespeare was a master at inventing insults!

For example, Kent, a character in the play King Lear, describes a rogue steward as:

"A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a base proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, fifthly-worsted-stocking knave; a lilly-livered, action-taking, whoreson glass-gazing super serviceable finical rogue, one-trunk-inheriting slave' (Act II, Scene II).

Continue to explore the Written Word Timeline, or else try out some Renaissance activities.