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Practical Criticism Of English Literature English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1858 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Reading Shakespeare’s language can be a problem indeed for many people today. Untangling unusual sentence structures and recognizing and understanding poetic compression and wordplay is totally needed in order to be drenched in Shakespearean language. Obsolete words and many complex sentence structures lead many modern readers to think that they are reading Old or Middle English. In fact, both King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare belong to the late phase of Early Modern English. [3][4]

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As we are going to deal with Shakespeare’s language, we need to know that he invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, adding prefixes and suffixes, connecting words never before used together and so on. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the language used in Shakespeare’s poems are so difficult to undestand.[7]

Next, we are going to put an eye on Shakespeare’s work Hamlet. Really, what is going to be done is a study of the way characters manage to be undestood in the 17th century society, taking into account Shakespeare’s historical moment and his characteristic language to embellish texts. In addition, the role of people in general, customs, religion, the linguistic variety and so on will be a key point to make work better understanding.

2. Studying Hamlet in context

As it was said, our everyday speech is full of words and phrases invented by Shakespeare. He was able to do that because English was changing as people modernised it in their normal workday speech. As an example of this in Hamlet (1,3,7), (2,1,10) and (3,2,191) we point out three examples of Shakespearean coinages, among others.[2]

English was being set free to go where writers wanted to take it in their poetry. And so did Shakespeare. He took it where he liked throughout all his texts, transforming the English language into what he really wanted.[8] He liked playing with words. In the play Hamlet we find many examples of how he did it by supporting words with suffixes ending in ‘-ment’ (1,2,93) or in ‘-es’ (2,2,21), by using words indifferently (5,2,8), introducing rare words (3,2,65), changing adjectives into adverbs (1,1,174) and, what’s more, he was used to use the singular form of a word where modern usage would dictate the plural (1,3,101) and (5,2,2).[2]

He is known for his wordplays. In (1,2,205-206) we find a sentence structure which is inverted with the object This and the adverbial phrase ‘to me/ In dreadful secrecy’ both preceding the verb and subject impart they did. Apart from wordplays he also use notoriously difficult phrases (1,1,62) and even obscure phrases as in (1,1,93), (3,2,130) or obsolete and colloquial word (1,1,102) and (5,1,263), respectively.[2]

It is undeniably true that not everyone in the Elizabethan Period had the same access to education. Education, actually would begin at home, where children were taught the basic etiquette of proper manners and respecting others. It was necessary for boys to attend grammar school, but girls were rarely allowed to education, unless they belonged to a wealthy family.[12][2]

So, as we can imagine, Shakespeare did not give the same skill and the same knowledge of language to a servant or to a soldier i.e. Reynaldo and Francisco, that to a person belonging to the ruling class i.e. Claudius and Hamlet. Cladius’s speech is rich with rhetorical figures — as is Hamlet’s. In (1,2,1-5) we can see the King’s opening speech which has often been admired as a demonstration of his political skill. He is certainly masterly in his deployment of second person pronouns — our, us, we — which slide from the royal ‘we’ to include the whole Court in his discourse and to resonate with Greek polical speeches. While the language of Horatio, the guards and the gravediggers is simpler. Lots of examples of metaphors delivered by the King are founded, such as in (1,2,20) or (3,1,165).[2][6]

Hamlet is the most skilled of all at rhetoric. His language is considered courtly, that means, an elaborated and witty discourse as recommended by Baldassare Castiglione’s 1528 guide The Courtier. In this work we find specifically advises royal retainers to amuse their masters with inventive language. And that is what Osric and Polonius exactly do.[1][2]

Hamlet uses highly developed metaphors. Also, when occasion demands, he is precise and straightforward, as when he explains his inward emotion to his mother. At times, he relies heavily on puns to express his true thoughts while simultaneously concealing them.[9] As an example of the different figures of speech used throughout the play , we have identified the following: analogy (2,2,352); asyndeton (1,2,77); irony (1,1,136); oxymoron (2,2,274); metaphor (1,1,30), among others.[2]

Further to the variety of English linguistics, we must not confuse. Actually, Old English range from the 5th century to the middle of the 11th century and it is really closer to the Germanic mother tongue of the Anglo-Saxons. With the arrival of the French-speaking Normans in 1066, Old English underwent dramatic changes and by 1350 it had evolved into Middle English which is easier but still looks like a foreign language. By about 1450, Middle English was replaced with Early Modern English which is almost identical to contemporary English.[3][2][5]

During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the former plural form ‘you’ was usurping many of the functions of the singular ‘thou’ and the distinctions between the two forms were not always marked, either by Shakespeare or by his printers (1,3,4). By contrast, ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ were used by people of higher rank to those beneath them, and by lower classes to each other (1,2,42-45); also, strangely enough, in addressing God, and in talking to witches, ghosts and other supernatural beings. As a refection of the higher status of males in the male/female context a husband might address his wife as ‘thou’ and she might replay respectfully with ‘you’.[8][2]

The use of ‘thou’ and ‘you’ also had an emotional dimension. ‘Thou’ commonly expressed special intimacy or affection; ‘you’ , formality, politeness, and distance. ‘Thou’ might also be used by an inferior to a superior, to express such feelings as anger and contempt or to be insulting and this is one of the areas where Shakespeare is able to get extra levels of meaning by showing disrespect by one character for another’s status. The use of ‘thou’ to a person of equal rank could be used as an insult. Shakespeare was acutely aware of the way the Early Modern English language that he grew up with was changing and it is yet another way that he was able to create the levels of meaning that made him such an enduring writer. When students take the trouble to understand the use of the thees and thous they are able to appreciate the additional meaning rather than seeing them as a difficulty.[8][2]

The period in which he lived was called the Elizabethan Period. Was filled with magic and sometimes terror. Pagan influence was present in literature and many of the superstitions outlasted the century and still exist today.[10] Elizabeth’s religious policy shaped the future of the Anglican Church as a blend of Roman Catholicism and Genevan Protestantism (Calvinism). However, Elizabeth strove to be even-handed in dealing with infringements upon the law by either extreme, whether Puritan or Catholic, but allowed freedom of belief as long as it did not openly flout the law or promote sedition.[11][2]

Hamlet was actually written at a time of religious upheaval. The play is alternately Catholic (or piously medieval) and Protestan (or concsiously modern). The Ghost describes himself as being in purgatory and as dying without last rites. This and Ophelia’s burial ceremony, which is characteristically Catholic, make up most of the play’s Catholic connection. Even revenge tragedies are known to be taken from traditionally Catholic countries, nevertheless according to the Catholic doctrine the strongest duty is to God and family and that may explain Hamlet’s conundrum: whether to revenge his father and kill Claudius or to leave the vengance to God, as his religion requires.[9] If we pay serious attention to the work, we will realize that there are many references to Catholicism and Protestantism. In (1,1,151) Shakespeare indicates that the characters are Christians, a mixture of classical and Christian allusions was common at the time.[2]

Much of the play’s Protestantism derives from its location in Denmark- predominantly Protestant country. The play does mention Wittenberg in (1,2,113), where Hamlet, Horatio, and Rosencrantz and Guildenster attend university, also where Martin Luther first proposed his 95 theses in 1517.[9][2]

Finally, continuing with the Elizabethan era, Shakespeare does mention keywords that next are interpreted and put into context:[2]

In (1,2,147) Shakespeare mentioned the Queen’s shoes which were made of cloth or perhaps very fine leather, as worn by Elizabethan Court ladies. Also in (2,1,75) Shakespeares talked about his characters as being dressed as in English Elizabethan people.

In (1,2,176) the word ‘studient’ is used in the same Elizabethan spelling.

In (1,3,36) an Elizabethan Court lady would also masked her face and hands from the sun.

In (1,5,11) Shakesperare named a traditional punishment in purgatory. Since punishments were thought, as in the classical Hades to fit the sins or crimes.

In (1,5,39), as in the Elizabethan belief, the tongue was the source of a snake’s poison rather than the teeth.

In (1,5,149) the space under the theatre was associated with hell as in the Elizabethan era.

3. Conclusion

4. Sources

[1]Castiglione, Baldassare. (1528). The Courtier, Venice: Aldine Press.

[2]Taylor, Neil et Thompson, Ann. (2006). The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, London: AS.

4.1. Internet Sources












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