The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

Language

No doubt Shakespeare’s plays contain the richest, most eloquent language to be found in any literature outside the Bible. The virtuosity of the technique, in combination with the immense, imaginative vocabulary, is dazzling. Yet Shakespeare also evinces concern for the very nature of language, how the words his characters use, as well as the structure of their sentences and verse, reflect their personality.

In Richard II, for instance, the title character revels in his own extravagant usage, along with the expressions of others. In the opening scene, he orders that Bullingbrook, Richard’s cousin, and Mowbray, the King’s chief confidant, both of whom have accused each other of treason, be brought before him:


High-stomach’d are they both and full of ire,

In rage, deaf as the sea, hasty as fire.

(I, i, 18–19)

He is intrigued with their verbal eloquence rather than with their charges. This impression is reinforced after Bullingbrook offers a scathing condemnation of Mowbray’s behavior, blaming him for “all the treasons for these eighteen years” (I, i, 95) and “the Duke of Gloucester’s death” (I, i, 100). To these statements, Richard replies blithely, “How high a pitch his resolution soars” (I, i, 109). He cares more about the sound of the words than about the devastating indictments that stop just short of blaming Mowbray’s superior, Richard himself, for treachery and murder.

When Richard sentences Mowbray to exile for life, Mowbray muses bitterly on that aspect of the punishment which will wound him the most:

-161-

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The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction xi
  • Acting 1
  • Appearance versus Reality 9
  • Clerics 23
  • Commoners 35
  • Cynicism 45
  • Divine Right 53
  • Fate 63
  • Fathers and Daughters 71
  • Fidelity 81
  • Fools 89
  • Forgiveness 99
  • Gender 107
  • Generations 117
  • Honor 127
  • Innocence 135
  • Intoxication 143
  • Justice 151
  • Language 161
  • Love and Romance 171
  • Machiavels 187
  • Madness 199
  • Male Friendship 211
  • Marriage 219
  • Money 229
  • Mortality 237
  • Nationalistic Pride and Prejudice 245
  • Nature 255
  • Order 263
  • Politics 273
  • Power 285
  • Reason versus Passion 295
  • Revenge 305
  • Supernatural Phenomena 315
  • The Tragic Flaw 325
  • War 335
  • Conclusion 345
  • Further Reading 347
  • Index 349
  • About the Author 362
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