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Shakespeare inventing words

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447426.  Fri Nov 28, 2008 6:37 pm Reply with quote

I said in class the other day about the words Shakespeare is credited to have invented. My teacher then said that he ddn't actually invent most of them, that they were words in useage already. It is more that he poplularised them.

Can anyone advise further?

447444.  Fri Nov 28, 2008 7:36 pm Reply with quote

Your teacher is probably right, but shouldn't really be dogmatic on the matter.

Since there was no television in Shakespeare's time, and certainly no Internet, it's more difficult to know which words people actually used then than is the case today. The best clue we have is to look at what got written down - and it's certainly the case that for 1,500 or so words, the first citation we have is from the works of Shakespeare.

That doesn't mean that Shakespeare invented those words. He might have done, but think about it - if your job was to write plays that people would pay money to see, would you be likely to make up and use words that your audience wouldn't understand? In most cases, probably not - the words he used would in most cases have been ones with which his audience would be familiar.

"Puke" (to vomit), for instance. Some claim that that was pure invention, but other writers were using it within a year or two, so it seems more likely that it was a slang word which just hadn't gotten itself written down before.

It may not even be the case that Shakespeare's work contains the first written use of a word. The team that compiled the OED was keen on Shakespeare (and Spenser, and a couple of other writers), and quoted his works whenever it could. If some less well known writer had used a word which then appeared in Shakespeare not very much later, chances are that it's Shakespeare who gets the mention.

And of course, it's utterly impossible for any person - or even any team of people - to have read everything. Now that texts can be digitized and subjected to computerized searches, it's easier than once, but at the time the OED was created such techniques didn't exist. So it's equally possible that a given word actually appeared in the work of some less well known writer from well before Shakespeare, and no one has noticed.

I don't doubt for a second that he did invent some words though. "Denote" is often suggested as one such (derived from Latin, but not previously attested in English), as is "alligator" (a Spanish word, but he seems to have been the first to Anglicize it from aligarto). Occasionally Shakespeare seems to have been in a bit of a silly mood when writing - at no time was "deracinate" (to pull up by the roots) in common usage, and he was just being humorously pompous.

447472.  Fri Nov 28, 2008 9:37 pm Reply with quote

He did invent all the quotes and book titles, though.

449547.  Tue Dec 02, 2008 5:25 pm Reply with quote

Oops sorry, I missed that until just now ...

We can, at any rate, say that whoever wrote the plays which are conventionally attributed to William Shakespeare invented all those quotes, yes ...

Sadurian Mike
453245.  Mon Dec 08, 2008 7:34 pm Reply with quote

That's instraformating, thank you.

453273.  Mon Dec 08, 2008 10:14 pm Reply with quote

whoever wrote the plays which are conventionally attributed to William Shakespeare

sheer cowardice suze - Shakespeare wrote the plays. No alternative attribution has ever given a plausible explanation as to why the purported "others" would have allowed a supposed peasant to take the credit.

453664.  Tue Dec 09, 2008 12:41 pm Reply with quote

As regards the vast majority of the text of the vast majority of the plays, I think so too bob, but I'm sure there'll be someone around here who holds a different opinion.

Even so, there are almost certainly some parts of the canon which are not by Shakespeare. Two of the best known examples:

Henry VIII (perhaps the worst play ascribed to Shakespeare) was probably either a collaboration, or else was rewritten by John Fletcher, who succeeded Shakespeare as writer in chief to the King's Men. The style of much of the verse in that work is just not Shakespeare's, and neither is the style of many of the stage directions.

The Hecate scenes (Scottish Play, III.v. and IV.i.) seem unlikely to be Shakespeare's either. Quite apart from the fact that the stage directions in those scenes are wrong (in the Folio, the witches are said to enter when in fact they are already on stage, while Hecate exits when not on stage), IV.i. is doggerel. It was for a long time ascribed to Thomas Middleton, but he was better than that, so we really don't know who added those scenes (which are often omitted on stage).

Sadurian Mike
453804.  Tue Dec 09, 2008 5:07 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
The Hecate scenes (Scottish Play, III.v. and IV.i.)


453826.  Tue Dec 09, 2008 5:28 pm Reply with quote

Oh Mike ...

453849.  Tue Dec 09, 2008 5:44 pm Reply with quote

Is it bad luck to mention The Scottish Play by name anywhere, or is it just in a theatre?

ps... suze, are you the multi-lingual forumee, or is it Jenny? Or, indeed, someone else?

453853.  Tue Dec 09, 2008 5:48 pm Reply with quote

Bondee wrote:

ps... suze, are you the multi-lingual forumee, or is it Jenny? Or, indeed, someone else?

I'm sure there are many of us out there who are multi-lingual, but probably not to the extent as suze (I THINK IT'S HER!). I for one speak English, French and Russian, but you mightn't beat this guy. I've just bought a book by him, with part of the prize money from school.

Last edited by zomgmouse on Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:12 pm; edited 1 time in total

Sadurian Mike
453864.  Tue Dec 09, 2008 5:59 pm Reply with quote

I speak English and gibberish.

453894.  Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:46 pm Reply with quote

Bondee wrote:
Is it bad luck to mention The Scottish Play by name anywhere, or is it just in a theatre?

I'm not sure; accordingly, I tend to go for a kind of Pascal's Wager and assume the former. It's unavoidable in the classroom, but elsewhere I do try to avoid using the M word.

Bondee wrote:
ps... suze, are you the multi-lingual forumee, or is it Jenny? Or, indeed, someone else?

I'm by no means the only person on these forums who speaks more than one language, but I do, yes. Apart from English, I speak French and Polish to a level that one could describe as "fluent", German to a lesser level, and Inuktitut at a rather basic level. I can read a fair number of others to some extent without being able to speak them in any meaningful way.

453898.  Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:53 pm Reply with quote

Bondee wrote:
Is it bad luck to mention The Scottish Play by name anywhere, or is it just in a theatre?

Supossedly, the reason why it is unlucky to mention "MacBeth" in a theatre is that if a production of a play was going badly it, it was likely to be cancelled and replaced by a Shakespeare play which was sure to pull to the punters in. So, if an actor heard someone mention "Macbeth" it was likely to be in the context of "let's drop this rubbish and put "MacBeth" on instead" and the play would close the following week.

With regards to Shakespeare's originality, as I may have mentioned before, the only plot that Shaky originated himself was, so I believe, "The Tempest". All the others were adapted from pre-existing sources.

Sebastian flyte
453922.  Tue Dec 09, 2008 7:25 pm Reply with quote

It's in the theatre that it is a problem to say the M word but it has sort of spilled out into normal life too. If an actor says Macbeth he or she is cursed and must go out and do something to counteract it, spin round I think.
There are a few theories about 'the Scottish play' but I think Djgordys one is probably the real one! You aren't to perform a whole play without an audience either so you don't often say the last lines or you have to have friends in on rehearsals or those rehearsals where the public can watch. King of Quok knows loads of these actually, but is probably still away.

(bizarrely in ballet the colour blue for scenery is thought to be unlucky and silver lucky you could get away with blue if silver was used as is unlucky in the theatre)


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