Myth Of Shakespeare

1678 Words7 Pages
Introduction When Shakespeare’s plays were first printed together, Ben Jonson provided a poem describing Shakespeare as- ‘not of an age, but for all time’. Subsequent criticism built on this, constructing what has been called the ‘myth’ of Shakespeare as a cultural phenomenon: a ‘universal’ genius whose qualities transcend history, and who can ‘speak’ to us across time. The myth of Shakespeare’s universality is powerful; but it is also very dangerous, especially in relation to his language. Shakespeare used English at a particular moment in its history: its vocabulary was expanding rapidly while its grammar standardized. He had choices to make about grammatical constructions, pronouns, and nouns that are no longer open to us. But Shakespeare’s culture also thought about language differently, and applied different aesthetic values to it. If we see Shakespeare as ‘universal’, we run the risk of blinding ourselves to the strangeness of Shakespeare’s linguistic practice and culture. In the paper some issues will be discussed. First, how impressive our own aesthetic values lead us to underestimate Shakespeare’s vocabulary. Second, how a failure to understand what the Renaissance thought about meaning stops us understanding Shakespeare’s wordplay. Above all it will also be suggested that Shakespeare’s real linguistic genius might instead be found in grammar. 1. Words One of the general claims about Shakespeare’s language is that he inventing hundred of words. For example, the
Open Document