This talk provides a general introduction to Shakespeare’s language, which is now roughly 400 years old. Although it is recognizably English, it nevertheless differs in many details from Present-Day English. Today it is not always easy to understand even for native speakers of English – of course it is the English language that has moved on, whereas Shakespeare represents an older stage of English.
To begin with I place Shakespeare in the linguistic context of his time, namely the Early Modern English period. Then I deal briefly with the linguistic levels, especially spelling, pronunciation, Shakespeare’s verse, striking features of his inflexion and syntax, as well as of his vocabulary, especially as far as word-formation and semantics are concerned. The emphasis is, of course, on those features where Shakespeare differs from Present-Day English; interestingly Shakespeare often uses older as well as more modern constructions, which shows that English was in a stage of transition during his time.
I shall also briefly discuss Shakespeare’s rich use of rhetoric and imagery, and his forms of address, which can show politeness but also impoliteness and scorn. Finally I mention how Shakespeare characterizes his main figures and their development through the language they use (or rather he makes them use).