291ENL The Making Of Modern English
Seminar 5
The Extent Of Shakespeare’s Influence On
The Phraseology Of English
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Social and Political Climate of the Sixteenth Century
New publications in English due to:
• interest in the classical languages and literatures
• scientific and medical developments
• the arts (theatre)
These occurrences took place as part of the
renaissance, a period which lasted from approximately
1485 to 1660.
(Crystal 2003:60)
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The Renaissance period included:
• the Reformation
• discoveries by Copernicus (astronomer)
• European exploration of Africa and the Americas
The effects of these fresh perspectives on the English
language set in quickly, spread far and were
The emphasis was on vocabulary; it had to expand in
order to accommodate these developments.
(Crystal 2003: 61)
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“The two most important influences on the development
of English during the final decades of the renaissance
are the works of Shakespeare and The King James
Bible” (Crystal 2003:62)
Not because of beauty or technical excellence but
because of their widespread popularity due to being
produced in English.
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Although Shakespeare was the first to record certain
words (e.g. obscene, puppi-dogges), it is likely that they
were already used in spoken language of the time.
It was Shakespeare’s custom to write such unofficial
words into his plays. This would have been a major
factor in creating popular awareness of them and
increase their circulation. (Crystal 2003:62)
His plays were performed for a mixed class audience
i.e. poorer people stood at the front, richer people
would sit further back, higher up in the balconies.
(William Shakespeare Info 2005)
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Lexical Firsts
Shakespeare’s main impact was on the English word
stock (the lexicon) and gives an indication of how
English was developing.
There are many words first recorded by Shakespeare
which have survived into Modern English:
accommodation, assassination, barefaced, countless,
courtship, dislocate, dwindle, eventful, fancy free, lacklustre, laughable, premeditated, submerged
(Crystal 2003:63)
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Lexical Firsts continued…
There are also many of his words which did not survive:
Abruption, appertainments, cadent, exsufflicate,
persistive, protractive, questrist, soilure, tortive,
ungenitured, unplausive, vastidity
(Crystal 2003:63)
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Grammatical Conversions
As inflectional endings fell out of use, there was an
increase in the use of grammatical conversions.
• One word class would function as another
• Shakespeare was fond of making verbs from nouns
• This was frequently used in dramatic writing
(Contemporary rhetoricians called it anthimeria)
It out-herods Herod…
No more shall trenching war channel her fields…
Grace me no grace, or uncle me no uncle…
Destruction straight shall dog them at the heels…
(Crystal 2003:63)
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Modern equivalents
An Australian comedian once said that the British are
the only people who use glass as a verb.
Other modern examples:
Text a friend
Programme a computer
Email your tutor
Google Shakespeare on the internet
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Shakespeare frequently used hyphenated compounds
which are categorised somewhere between his
neologisms (new words) that have survived and those
which have died.
Examples include:
(Crystal 2003: 63)
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Modern Equivalents
Sell-by (date)
Well-paid (job)
Three-piece (suite)
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Idiomatic expressions
Many of Shakespeare’s quotes have been upgraded
from quotes to everyday expressions.
Examples include:
Love is blind
A foregone conclusion
A tower of strength
I must be cruel only to be kind
(Crystal 2003:63)
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Shakespeare’s influence is fairly unavoidable in modern
English language. It was his creative approach to
describing and conveying everyday concepts which
allowed people to latch on to his word craft.
Therefore the extent to which he has shaped the
English language has been far stretched.
“He was not of an age, but for all time” Ben Johnson –
friend of Shakespeare and fellow playwright
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Crystal, D. (2003) The Cambridge Encyclopedia Of The
English Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University
William Shakespeare Info (2005) Old Globe Theatre
Structure [online] Available from <http://www.williamshakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-globe-theatrestructure.htm> [11 January 2009]
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