Shakespeare’s language needs to be approached in two ways: from the present to the past and from pre-Shakespearian times to the Elizabethan period. What stands between us today and Shakespeare is the tradition of grammatical correctness and acceptability which surfaced in the seventeenth century and was reinforced through grammatical teaching in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Shakespeare was often a target for such faultfinding. Particular attention was given to such constructions as the double negative, the double comparative and the lack of concord. Dryden was among the first to criticise Elizabethan writers for their poor grammar. In his Defence of the Epilogue
or An Essay on the Dramatic Poetry of the Last Age
(?1672) he noted:
And, certainly, to observe errors is a great step to the correcting of them. But malice and partiality set apart, let any man who understands English read diligently the works of Shakespeare and Fletcher; and I dare undertake that he will find in every page either some solecism of speech, or some notorious flaw in sense; and yet these men are reverenced when we are not forgiven.
(Kinsley and Parfitt 1970: 121)
KeywordsFull Stop Past Participle Discourse Marker English Grammar Plural Subject
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