A. The two greatest trends to have influenced and marked the English language after the
Norman invasion of 1066 have been:
The Bible in its different versions; not only for all of the religious allusions
which have entered into common usage but above all for the simplicity and flexibility of
the language used in these versions. Everybody reads the Bible in the English speaking
world and its language underpins every form of linguistic expression. Biblical references
are without doubt more numerous in Anglophone literature than in any other Western
Shakespeare (and to a lesser extent, Chaucer before him). It could even be argued
that he invented a large part of the English language, and helped to amplify and develop
its major qualities: its flexibility and potential for concrete imagery. There are
innumerable expressions which have passed directly from Shakespeares plays into
everyday language. Here are just a few examples drawn from Hamlet.
- Theres something rotten in the state of Denmark
- Not a mouse stirring
- Frailty, thy name is woman
- More matter, with less art
- Hold the mirror up to nature
Shakespeare breaks with all of the rigid principles of the past; for
him the world is not fixed, it changes constantly and language can only be the faithful
reflection of all these transformations. His language is therefore characterised above all
by its flexibility; it adapts itself to every circumstance and reflects
every thought and emotion of the characters, from the most lofty to the most everyday. Nor
does Shakespeare hesitate to pass from verse to prose, from an ultra literary language to
one of the greatest vulgarity, often within the language of a single character and even
within the same speech. This is particularly true of Hamlet: see for example the
soliloquies and the sexual wordplay, puns and innuendoes.
Shakespeares inventiveness: of all the authors in the English language he is
without doubt the one with the most extensive and richest vocabulary. He
draws from all areas of language and from all registers.
Nevertheless his language always has the tone and pace of the spoken word.
Shakespeare never forgot that he was first of all a man of the theatre and that what he
wrote on paper was to be spoken. From this arise unforgettable sound combinations; there
are in the soliloquies of Hamlet passages which delight the ear. There are also
miracles of simplicity and power: Descartes I think, therefore I am
convinces us; To be or not to be, that is the question moves us.
The world of Shakespeare is the world transformed into images and metaphors;
an object becomes a word which turns it into an idea or an emotion. There are also double
meanings, puns and wordplay, at times ironic, often obscene, always witty, even
in the greatest tragedies.
Shakespeare has survived all the ages: rooted in the
Renaissance he survived the Enlightenment, Romanticism, realism, the Industrial
Revolution; he has adapted to the computer age and is spreading throughout the Web. He
endures, he is indestructible.