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By N. F. Blake (auth.)

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Extra info for Shakespeare’s Language: An Introduction

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We are in danger of judging Shakespeare's poetry on premisses different from those on which it was written, and so we inay ignore the reasons which led him to choose a particular word. Sections on figures of sound can be found in all rhetorical handbooks from this period, though they may appear under the guise of schemes of words or of grammar. These figures rely on the repetition of sounds or words in pleasing or significant patterns. Of these we are now familiar only with alliteration though its reputation is much diminished because we tend to think of it as little more than superfluous verbal decoration.

Is there any man ha's rebus'd your worship? : Villaine I say, knocke me heere soundly. : Knocke you heere sir? Why sir, what am I sir, that I should knocke you heere sir. : Villaine I say, knocke me at this gate, And rap me well, or Ile knocke your knaues pate. : My Mr is growne quarrelsome: I should knocke you first, And then I know after who comes by the worst. (I ii 5-14) In this example it is the master who uses the ethic dative and the servant who misunderstands it. Clearly we have no more than plain comedy here through the exploitation of linguistic variety with no class overtones.

If Shakespeare differs from his contemporaries, it is not in the use of obscenity, it is in its expression. Furthermore, wordplay and rhetoric share an important characteristic which is that they put sound before sense. By this I mean that surface grammaticality and logic may be sacrificed in the interests of making a particular effect in which sound is important. Today we are not so ready to pay attention to such sound effects and so editors may try to make more sense out of the surface language than Shakespeare did.

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