Shakespeare and language

I love watching plays by Shakespeare, especially if performed by great actors. I will often go onto YouTube just to watch a scene by one of the greats — Olivier, Dench, Gielgud or Jacobi, to name a few.

And I have often pondered the effect of the language. Shakespeare was writing his plays more than four centuries ago. Needless to say, the English language has evolved quite a bit since Elizabethan times.

On the one hand, this language difference can create a barrier to comprehension for modern audiences. Although to be fair, in the hands of a great actor, Shakespeare’s prose is remarkably easy to understand.

But perhaps the very strangeness of the language is part of the appeal. All of those odd phrases and cadences create room for mystery. Audiences are, in a sense, invited to interpolate meanings of their own, in a way that might not be the case for a play written and performed in modern English.

Ironically, audiences of today may be experiencing the richness of Shakespeare’s language in a way that Elizabethans of his own day could not.

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