Prime 'Think On My Words': Exploring Shakespeare's LanguageAuthor David Crystal –

In the course of my recent informal Shakespeare studies I wanted to read about his language so I could access his plays without depending so much on footnotes I am currently reading Frank Kermode s Shakespeare Language, and I am enjoying it a lot, but the volume turned out to be focused on literary criticism instead of linguistics That s why coming across Crystal s book has been very useful.This is a linguistic guide that tackles Shakespeare s language bit by bit orthography, pronunciation, vocabulary, syntaxis and so on It is aimed at the general public, so there are explanations, for instance, about what the different parts of speech are, but if you have a good knowledge of English grammar you can easily skip those paragraphs.I took lots of notes and the book is quite informative, for instance, about vocabulary and false friends Just what I had been looking for.N.B It seems that David Crystal s son is an actor and there is a useful video in OpenLearn The Open University s sample resources where they demonstrate OP, Original Pronunciation It is a good auditory complement to the explanations in the book. A book not about acting that all actors should read. You Speak A Language That I Understand Not Hermione S Words To Leontes In The Winter S Tale Are Likely To Ring True With Many People Reading Or Watching Shakespeare S Plays Today For Decades, People Have Been Studying Shakespeare S Life And Times, And In Recent Years There Has Been A Renewed Surge Of Interest Into Aspects Of His Language So How Can We Better Understand Shakespeare How Did He Manipulate Language To Produce Such An Unrivaled Body Of Work, Which Has Enthralled Generations Both As Theater And As Literature David Crystal Addresses These And Many Other Questions In This Lively And Original Introduction To Shakespeare S Language Covering In Turn The Five Main Dimensions Of Language Structure Writing System, Pronunciation, Grammar, Vocabulary, And Conversational Style The Book Shows How Examining These Linguistic Nuts And Bolts Can Help Us Achieve A Greater Appreciation Of Shakespeare S Linguistic Creativity Good book, though weighted toward the lingual technician I confess to skimming some chapters that I would have read were Iin a historical lexigraphical mode But such is not the case at this point in time. Normally, I love a book about the craft of poetry a focused, exploration of what makes the language of a poet work or not work So I picked up this book with some enthusiasm But I was disappointed.The theme of this book is that Shakespeare is not hard, but its exasperated tone and flippant disregard for the difficulties and challenges of Shakespeare undermined the book.So, is Shakespeare hard Yes and no If you define hard as not immediately accessible, unfamiliar and unconventional by today s standards , then yes, Shakespeare is hard But I prefer to call him playful No rule of grammar, poetry, language, spelling or punctuation is unbreakable Everything is in play But is he understandable Yes A relatively well read person can understand what he is saying You won t understand every word or every passage I don t , but you ll know what s going on This book, though, tells people that Shakespeare is easy and makes perfect sense It creates a false sense that the problem is solely with the reader and not the text Dear reader, let me assure you that it s not you Shakespeare has many lines that have baffled literary geniuses for centuries We simply don t know what he was trying to say This might be because the text was corrupted, or Shakespeare was so busy that a number of his tens of thousands of lines were not completely thought through There are many other reasons for the challenges Shakespeare presents his complicated, metaphorical language, his rich and varied use of rhetoric, his playfulness as noted above and the basic changes in our language over the past 400 years So, is Shakespeare hard to read Yes But he didn t write to be read He wrote to be spoken tripplingly upon the stage, and it doesn t matter if you hear every word or understand every utterance the emotional impact is clear and unambiguous. Very helpful companion to the plays I read for my undergraduate Shakespeare class disclaimer I m not into Shakespeare quite enough to make me a true Bard Geek, but I did study his works in high school, and in college Voluntarily I found this book fascinating Crystal first debunks many of the myths about Shakespeare and his language, and corrects mis perceptions about the chasm between Shakespeare s English and Modern English Then it s off on examinations of typography, vocabulary, meter, pronunciation, punctuation It s a lot of area to cover, and Crystal does get dry and pedantic at times For instance, I think anyone who isn t a credentialed researcher will skip over the tables on percentages of verse vs prose, and shared lines per play But for every contemplated call to the SPCA for abuse of deceased equines, I had an a HA moment, or gained an insight into Shakespeare s life and times The book wraps up with an A to Z list of false friends relatively common words whose meanings have changed dramatically no pun intended since the plays were written If you find yourself about to give up and say tl dr, skip to this section before you go Oh, and don t miss this video by the author and his son on Shakespeare s pronunciation It helped the book come alive for me. It s a common misconception that Shakespearean English is Old English And to any secondary school student who s had to struggle through trying to read Romeo and Juliet aloud in class, I can understand how it would certainly seem that way But both Shakespeare s English and the English that we speak today are considered Modern English and Crystal takes the time to discuss this, debunking some of thecommon misconceptions about how different Shakespeare s English is from ours.I really enjoyed this book I especially enjoyed the section about the Original Pronunciation This book is how I found out about the OP performances at the Globe in London although I wasn t able to actually attend one though I did ask the guide about them when I was there Some of the sections may be less interesting to those who aren t as interested in linguistics as I am, and this book is not a Shakespearean English dictionary, so those who are looking to understand the meaning of Shakespearean words and phrases may be disappointed, although there is a list of words whose meanings have changed between when the plays were written and now at the end of the book. David Crystal is a modern day alchemist when it comes to understanding how the English language was and how it continues to change, and I especially appreciate his work on semantic web technology, helping the Internet to understand us humans better Of course, that both he and his son are fascinated by Shakespeare s rich language is the main reason why reading his catalogue of words, phrases and punctuation felt like a breeze when in any other textbook I d still be struggling to find enlightenment Crystal begins with dispelling a hew myth s about Shakespeare s language, the biggest and most daunting for teachers is that it is too hard to teach Not so much in this book as in Ben s Shakespeare on Toast is their idea of an Original Pronunciation OP worked out, in contrast to the affected Received Pronunciation RP that makes it next to impossible for students to understand actors on the stage Not that I needed such a cheat sheet, I d like to think that I have developed an ear for the iambic pentameter over the past twenty years of reading and watching the play poems are still a bit wordy, I find but I really appreciate being able to read Think on My Words before my first ever visit to the Globe Theatre, the authentic centre of world in London There was even a point, when I was enjoying a Hereford beef burger upstairs in the Swan that I thought I saw David Crystal dining with some philologist colleagues before the press viewing of Taming of the Shrew on July 4th, 2012 there it has been marked down, and when the Semantic Web kicks in, I suspect that I ll be hearing from Mr Crystal himself on whether it be yea or nay D A good source book if you are teaching Shakespeare, but not one I d recommend taking on a trip I bounced around in it, finding interesting places and skipping others, and believe it would be better if I used it to prepare to teach students about Shakespeare Still, since language interests me, I found parts interesting, especially where the author debunks myths about Shakespeare and language, including the fact that there is some place in the U.S where an isolated group of people still speak a version of English like Shakespeare s.