Shakespearian Comedy and Other Studies

By George Gordon | Go to book overview

XII
SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLISH1

IF you had asked an English writer of the sixteenth century what his difficulties were, and in particular why England had been so slow to produce masterpieces since Chaucer, after the usual authors' talk about the scarcity of patrons and the neglect of merit--having eased his mind on this eternal topic--he would almost certainly have named, as the chief obstacle to literature, the embarrassing state of the English language. There was no fixed standard, he would have complained; no accepted grammar, or spelling, or pronunciation, or accent; and, to add to these native troubles, there was an intolerable influxion of new words. That schooling of language which goes on in the places where youth is taught--which tames language but at the same time makes it manageable--all the strength of that discipline was expended on Latin, which was still the language of Europe and the verbal medium of the professions. Latin had its well-tried grammars, its dictionaries, its long-thought-out rules of diction and composition; it had models for everything, and was thoroughly well taught. The modern vernaculars, with the single exception of Italian, were unripe for this status. They could point to few received models, and were growing so fast that neither dictionary no grammar could keep pace with them. What English a man had depended much more than now on his surroundings and his mother wit, and the schoolmaster was only casually concerned. A boy, of course, might be lucky. It made some difference, I fancy, to young Spenser's English studies to have sat under Richard Mulcaster of the Merchant Taylors'

____________________
1
Society for Pure English Tract XXIX, based on a Lecture delivered at the Royal Institution on 5 February 1926.

-129-

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Shakespearian Comedy and Other Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • I - What is Comedy? 1
  • II - Shakespeare's Answer 14
  • III - The Dislike of Comedy 35
  • IV - Shakespeare the Englishman 39
  • V - Shakespeare's Periods 41
  • VI - The World of the Comedies 45
  • VII - Shakespeare's Women 52
  • VIII - Shakespeare's Clowns 60
  • IX - The Tempest 72
  • X - Othello, or The Tragedy of the Handkerchief 95
  • XI - A Note on the World of King Lear 116
  • XII - Shakespeare's English 129
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