A Shakespeare Grammar
In Springboard, at the beginning of Unit 4, it mentions that getting into the mindset of Elizabethan language is helpful to the student of Shakespeare. We will be looking at a number of facets of language as exemplified in The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, and, maybe, other plays by the “bard of Avon”. Your text mentions both the “inverted syntax” and the “puns” of Shakespeare, and we will certainly look at examples of these. Here we will look at, as only 21st century readers/viewers can, the ungrammatical of Shakespeare’s grammar. Surprisingly, our ability to “translate” the following passages into grammatically correct sentences will illustrate for ourselves and others, how much good grammar we have absorbed in our fourteen or fifteen years, or our forty-nine...
“The lines in this exercise are, by our present standards, ungrammatical; that is, the arrangement of the words to form a proper sentence are different from ours. If you wrote and spoke in the Elizabethan way, your teachers would quite rightly correct you. They might say that your grammar was not correct, or even that it was bad. Of course, if the Elizabethans at court spoke and wrote like us, the Queen would quite properly have banished them from her sight (... or drawn and quartered them for amusement ---ouch!), if not from England altogether”---Oh, Dear! “Language sticks close to the people who speak it, changing its forms much as people change their manners.”
In the first quotation below, “This is the most unkindest cut of all,” we have yet another example of Elizabethan high spirits. Not only were the Elizabethans lavish in their use of negative words, they were also given to using superlatives with abandon. They delighted in phrases like most perfectest and most happiest. We, us 21st centurions, speak in a low key. We say, and often with some slight embarrassment, happiest or most happy or most perfect. In a recent study of literature, at least, that which has been digitized by Google, it was found that “happiness’ and its synonyms was most frequent in the 1920s, the roaring 20s, almost double that of our own decade. What’s that say about us? Lighten up!
Rewrite the quotations, putting the sentences in proper grammatical form. Mind you, don’t be put off because the lines sound nice and poetic. Think to yourself: How would I say this casually to my friends and acquaintances? There will be a time for poetry ( Roberts 9).
Source: Roberts, Marcia. Reading Shakespeare. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1968.
EXAMPLE: This was the most unkindest cut of all. [Julius Caesar]
This was the most unkind cut (or the unkindest cut) of all.
Nor understood none neither, sir. [Love’s Labor Lost]
3. Thou canst not say I did it. [Macbeth]
6. Oh, behold,
The riches of the ship is come on shore! [Othello]
12. If this be so, why blame you me o love you?
I am again for Cydnus,
To meet Mark Antony. [Antony and Cleopatra ]
There is no harm intended to your person,
Nor to no Roman else. [Julius Caesar]
We will for Ireland. [Richard the Second]
Good morrow, and well met. How have ye done
Since last we saw in France? [Henry the Eighth]
Happy thou are not,
For what thou hast not, still thou strivest to get,
And what thou hast, forget’st. [Measure for Measure]
The Gaudy, blabbing and remorseful day
Is crept into the bosom of the sea. [Henry the Sixth]