WORDS PAST AND PRESENT
The contrast between modern English and English in the earlier stages of its development hardly needs further to be pointed out. Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, the English of Alfred the Great's time, to be understood, must be learned as one learns a foreign language. English even of the Middle English period, the English of Chaucer, is hardly intelligible, except to the specialist, without the aid of a glossary. The differences within the Modern English period, which begins about 1500, are not so strikingly apparent but are nevertheless real, and a realization of their existence is of incalculable importance to one who will rightly understand the literature of centuries preceding our own.
The language of Shakespeare, for instance, is farther from modern English than is sometimes realized. If Shakespeare himself were to recite his verse before a modern audience, his pronunciation would hardly escape ridicule. The hearer would inevitably be reminded of the pronunciation associated with farcical humor in the speech of the stage Irishman. Shakespeare's words, while somewhat less unfamiliar, nevertheless convey their full and precise meaning only to the instructed. For a precise understanding of his language, specialists have found it necessary to compile glossaries in bulk comparable to the lexicons used in studying foreign languages.
In order to illustrate in short space the difference between his use of words and that of to-day, let us take a few words from a single one of his plays. In King Lear we meet with