Robert Hart hartr at interweft.com.au
Thu Oct 5 10:55:59 AEST 2006

Ivan Trundle wrote:
> A bit difficult, if only because Shakespeare was THE master of this 
> art, at a time when English was not spoken (or written) that widely in 
> England. Shakespeare's contribution to the language was significant, 
> if only because he saw fit to use words in ways which most other 
> writers of his day would not have dreamt of. Chaucer, Keats et al were 
> never as adventurous.

If English was not spoken that widely in England at the time of 
Shakespeare, pray tell me what was the most common language spoken?

I think you are seriously mistaken: Shakespeare wrote in the most common 
language of his country - English.

That Shakespeare has had such an influence on English ever since is 
probably due largely to two things:-

   1. He was a towering talent (genius - but that word is now so
      debased) who loved using words in new and interesting ways and was
      also not afraid to invent words if he needed to. It would not have
      mattered when he wrote, he would have stretched the envelope of
      English in any time.
   2. English at the time of Shakespeare was in foment, for a wide range
      of reasons. The pressures of religious reform resulting in the
      King James bible, the other great piece of literature of this
      period, being but one of them (others include the emergence of
      England as a European power, colonisation of the New World, the
      renaissance and its impact on science and philosophy etc.).
      Shakespeare was thus writing in a time that English was open to,
      if not downright welcoming of, new meanings for old words - and
      indeed new words - as there was so much new that needed words to
      describe it.

Finally, please do not be so dismissive of Chaucer. He was writing at a 
time when English was just emerging as a national language (from beneath 
mediaeval French and Latin where it had evolved from the language of the 
conquered Saxon majority). There is nowhere near as much contemporary 
English writing from Chaucer's time to compare his writing with as there 
is from Shakespeare's period so it may be difficult to assess his impact 
on the English of his period. But in any case, apart from writing 
rollicking good tales, Chaucer's main contribution was that he wrote in 
English. I do not know enough to comment on his stretching at the bounds 
of the English of his day, but I would be surprised if he had not done so.

Few great writers fail so to do.

Robert Hart                                  hartr at interweft.com.au
+61 (0)438 385 533                           http://www.hart.wattle.id.au

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