Home

English

Shakespeare

Language of Shakespeare's plays

Language of Shakespeare's plays

Select Lesson

Explainer Video

Loading...
Tutor: Kat

Summary

Language of Shakespeare's plays

In a nutshell

Shakespeare's play were written 400 years ago and some of the language used in the play can be difficult for modern day audiences to understand. In this summary, you will learn some basics on how to better understand the language of Shakespearian times.



Verse and prose

In his plays, Shakespeare uses rhythm and rhyme. Rhythm gives language energy, so it plays an important role. 


blank verse

Blank verse is a type of poetry. It has regular rhythm but no rhyme. A lot of Shakespeare's plays are written in this form.

prose

Shakespeare tends to write in prose when there is a less significant character speaking. Prose has no rhythm or rhyme and would usually appear as a block of writing on the page.

rhythm

The rhythm that Shakespeare uses in his writing is iambic pentameter. This is a line with ten beats - five stressed and five unstressed (da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM). The rhythm is used by high class characters and sounds like a natural speech.

rhyme

In his writing, Shakespeare might use rhyming couplets. These are two lines that had rhyming words at the end. Couplets could be used for effect, such as emphasis or moment of tension. 



Understanding the language 

Shakespeare's language can be difficult to understand, especially for a modern day audience. When you think you might know some words, they'll end up having a totally different meaning. Here are some common translations:


shakespearean language 

modern-day translation

art
are
doth
does
yea
even
nay
no
aught
anything



Pronouns

Shakespeare had an interesting way of using pronouns in his plays. Shakespeare used 'thou' and 'thee' (which means 'you') and 'thy' and 'thine' (which means 'your') as an informal way of addressing someone. These pronouns might be used when:

  • Close friends talk to each other
  • Family members talk to each other 
  • Talking to a character of low status

The formal way of addressing someone would be to use 'you' or 'your'. You might see this when:

  • Talking to a high status character such as a noble or royal
  • A distant relationship


Example

Macbeth: 'Yet I do fear thy nature.' - Lady Macbeth (Macbeth's wife) is addressing Macbeth informally. 



Contractions

Contractions are common in spoken speech, and this was no different in Shakespeare's time. When looking at these words or phrases, it might seem strange compared to our modern contractions. However, just remember that the apostrophe just shows that there is a missing letter or letters.


contraction

original

'tis

it is

ne'er

never

o'er

over

'ere

before



Example

Othello: 'Tis neither here nor there.'

Create an account to read the summary

Exercises

Create an account to complete the exercises

FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What do the apostrophes in Shakespearean language show?

Why does Shakepeare use 'thou' and 'thee'?

Why does Shakespeare use couplets?

Beta

I'm Vulpy, your AI study buddy! Let's study together.