“Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou are more lovely and more temperate”.. As seen here, statistically.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was arguably one
of if not the greatest writer of the 16th century. The
son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden wrote
approximately 38 plays and 154 sonnets
throughout his lifetime, and by the time of his
death was a very wealthy man. He even helped
fund a theatre for the company which he sponsored
– the now world famous Globe Theatre.
His works have been converted into film, have been the inspiration for many
other pieces of literature, and have even become so imbedded in our psyche
that we don‟t even realize some of our biggest clichés come straight from his
works – a “foregone conclusion” comes from his play Othello, “elbow room”
from King John, and “baited breath” from The Merchant Of Venice. These are
an extremely small sampling of the huge impact this single man has had on
English, from the language to the literature. It is the aim of this presentation to
perhaps reintroduce you to the writing and literature that Shakespeare is
famous for, and maybe help you, the user, to enjoy it even if you do not do so
immediately. Trust me, “Come what may” (Macbeth) “Every dog will have
his day” (Hamlet). Wow, I was a poet and I didn‟t know it..
Sonnets to a young
Sonnets to a quot;Dark
Shakespeare‟s most common rhyme scheme was the „Shakespearean‟ Sonnet, also
called the Elizabethan Sonnet or English Sonnet which follows the scheme of end line
rhyme, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The vast majority of his work is written in this form,
his plays even feature a number of Sonnets inside them. His Sonnets (all 154 of them)
were written for one of three purposes, as illustrated by the pie chart above.
William Shakespeare composed 154 sonnets in his lifetime. After
his first two years in London, Shakespeare started writing in the
English sonnet form. According to some scholars, the English
sonnet was made for a language less beautiful in rhymes than
Italian. It differs from the Petrarchan sonnets in that it is divided
into three quatrains, each rhymed differently, with an
independently rhymed couplet at the end. The rhyme scheme of
the English (Shakespearean) sonnet is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Each
quatrain takes a different appearance of the idea or develops a
different image to express the theme. All of Shakespeare's sonnets
were in this form except for the poems he wrote earlier in life. The
154 sonnets can be formed into three groups, as illustrated by the
pie chart on the previous page. Shakespeare was thought to have
had multiple affairs and, while there is no actual evidence to
suggest this, he was thought to have homosexual thoughts as well
- but this may just be a very strong masculine friendship instead.
The evidence for this theory comes from the majority of his
Sonnets being composed to a “Fair Youth” who is masculine in the
As previously discussed in this presentation, the rhyme scheme
for a “Shakespearean” Sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg. This
means absolutely nothing to someone who has never read a
poem before, so here is a brief Sonnet (Sonnet XVIII)
William Shakespeare - Sonnet #18
Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day? (A)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: (B)
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, (A)
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date: (B)
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, (C)
And oft' is his gold complexion dimm'd; (D)
And every fair from fair sometime declines, (C)
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd: (D)
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade (E)
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; (F)
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,(E)
When in eternal lines to time thou growest: (F)
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, (G)
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (G)
This rhyme scheme allows for a smooth flow of thought and a pleasant sound – as
Sonnets were originally meant to be sung – as well as allowing for extremely
complicated imagery and layered thoughts to be shortened.
[Yansen Peyankov playing the comic gravedigger from Hamlet at the University
Unfortunately Shakespearean language can be somewhat confusing, as the
Language was used so long ago many things have changed, from things as
minor as spelling to other problems as major as meaning: If one called a
man bootless in modern times it would mean that the man was simply
lacking footwear – but in Elizabethan times this would be a much more
meaningful insult, as one would be calling the man „useless‟. As it would be
nearly impossible to list every single syntax change since the late 15th
and early 16th centuries in a 10 slide presentation, I have selected a few of
the more common words used in Shakespeare that have changed.
(Found 28 times) Addition: title, or epithet
(Found 47 times) Attempt: attack or a military venture
(Found 181 times) Attend: Wait upon (as in a servitude role).
(Found 149 times) Brave: Fine (looks), handsome. [Important!: Shakespeare also used the modern meaning for brave as well.]
(Found 103 times) Breathe: (3) meanings- to speak, to live, and the modern meaning of taking in air . Meaning is found in
(Found 133 times) Colour : (3) meanings- modern meaning of hue, shade, tint. Also, species or kind or variety of, also
pretence, as one would use the word in the term „false pretence‟.
(Found 112 times) Dread: modern term as fear, terror, but also a respectful meaning as awe or reverence: “My dread king.”
(Found 218 times) Heavy: Sorrowful, and occasionally used as modern term –weighted.
(Found 329 times) Nature: Physical existence, the physical world.
(Found 32 times) Resolve: Explain, clarify.
(Found 27 times) Stale: what we would call a „laughing stock‟ today, second meaning of urine.
As stated above, this is a very brief overview of a very few of the changes in
syntax found in Shakespeare.
It is my sincere hope that this presentation was
both entertaining and informative, that the
works of Shakespeare never be forgotten, but
most of all it is my sincerest hope that you the
user will have a newfound appreciation for his
works and influences on the English language,
and on our culture as a whole. From his
beginnings as a glover‟s son to his end as a
great and influential author, Shakespeare was
truly a master of the written and spoken word.
The preceding slides were all designed to both
The Globe theatre in England, which was funded
inform about Shakespeare‟s works, but also to by Shakespeare himself.
entice you, the user, into perhaps thinking twice
before groaning whenever you hear the works
of Shakespeare being studied.
With a small amount of work and a small amount of interest anyone can be a
“Shakespeare snob,” don‟t be intimidated by the language or the syntax, and
especially don‟t be intimidated by anyone telling you it is „dry and boring‟.
From the stories Shakespeare wrote hundreds of people have taken their cue,
What then, what roadblock or foible of language, is stopping YOU?
Slide One – Bar graph image used from:
Slide Two – Image used from:
Slide Four – Some information extrapolated from:
Slide Five – Sonnet XVIII by William Shakespeare
Slide Six - Image used from:
Slide Seven – Information on syntax taken from:
Slide Eight – Images used from:
Slide Nine – Image used from: