Uploaded by Adrian Darling

Decoding Shakespeare

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Decoding Shakespeare’s Language
As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, Shakespeare’s written language is a challenge, but
it’s not impossible! Just like any other puzzle, if you know the code, you can figure it out!
Code 1:
Shakespeare’s language is poetry written in iambic pentameter. That means that
Shakespeare wrote with a certain rhythm in mind: five “beats” per line with alternating
stressed and unstressed syllables.
“Nay, an/swer me. /Stand and /unfold /yourself.”
Beat #
He sometimes adds an accent mark over a syllable: when we see that, we
should emphasize that syllable. (In “galléd,” you would pronounce the “ed”)
He also sometimes adds “st” or “th” to words to make them fit (“wouldst,”
Code 2:
To maintain his rhythm, Shakespeare often used inverted syntax, meaning that he often
puts words “backwards” from what we might put them.
• ex. “…if again this apparition come” where we might say “if this apparition comes
Code 3:
Shakespeare creates abbreviations using contractions we’re not used to:
• “ ‘Tis strange”= It is (it’s) strange.
• “Or that the Everlasting had not fixed/His cannon ‘gainst self-slaughter” (against)
• “Let’s do’t, I pray” = Let’s do it, I pray.
Code 4:
Archaic or old language. If you aren’t familiar with the King James version of the Bible
(which is probably the only other piece of literature from this time period still commonly
found in people’s homes) you’re probably new to this language:
Thee/Thou = you
Thy = your
Thine = Your
Lo = look
Ho! = Hey!
Ay (pronounced “I”) = yes
Doth = does
Fie = Shame/a mild oath
Ere (pronounced “air”) =
Hath = has
Wherefore = Why
Use these “codes” to help you “decode” the following passages from Act I.
Paraphrase as much as you can!
Original Lines Your paraphrase (translation)
Original Lines
Your paraphrase (translation)
1. Marcellus: Horatio says ‘tis but our fantasy
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us.
2. Marcellus: Who is ‘t that can inform me?
3. Hamlet: Ay, madam, it is common.
Gertrude: If it be,
Why seems it so particular with thee?
4. Hamlet: These indeed “seem,”
For they are actions that a man might play
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.”
5. Horatio: Two nights together had these
gentlemen, Marcellus and Barnardo, on their
watch, In the dead waste and middle of the
night, Been thus encountered: a figure like
your father.
6. Laertes: (talking about Prince Hamlet)
He may not, as unvalued persons do,
Carve for himself, for on his choice depends
The safety and health of this whole state.
7. Ophelia: He hath, my lord, of late, made
many tenders Of his affection to me.
8. Horatio: Indeed? I heard it not. It then
draws near the season Wherein the spirit held
his wont to walk.
9. Hamlet: (to the Ghost)
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee.
10. Hamlet: Why, what should be the fear?
I do not set my life in a pin’s fee,
And for my soul—what can it do to that…