An Introduction to Hamlet

Reading Shakespeare's Language

Shakespeare's Words

In the works of Shakespeare, there are a handful of words that the reader may be unaccustomed to. This may simply be so because the words is no longer in use today, it may be because the word used has a different meaning today, or it may even be a word that Shakespeare is using to build a dramatic situation. It may prove challenging to the reader to use context clues to determine the meaning of such words. An example of a word that is no longer used today include “parle”, meaning a discussion or meeting. References to “the Dane” are used to build the World of Denmark in Hamlet. The reader will find the greatest challenge in interpreting the meaning of words that are still used today with different meanings and uses. For example, the word “rivals” is used in place of the word “companions”, and so the reader would initially perceive the word to mean almost the opposite of what was intended. Textual notes in the play are crucial to helping the reader discern the true meaning of Shakespeare’s writing.
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Shakespeare's Sentences

Shakespeare uses an interesting sentence structure throughout his works. He manipulates sentence structure to create rhythm in the lines of his plays. Often times Shakespeare will place the subject of the sentence before the verb. For example, in the opening scene of the play Hamlet, Horatio puts forth the line “(s)o frowned he once,” (73) which provides a clear example of Shakespeare’s tendency to place the subject before the verb in a sentence. Further, Shakespeare is also known for placing the object of a sentence before the subject and verb. This inversion of sentence structure is often seen in other works such as Julius Caesar, to create rhythm among lines or to stress a certain word through separation from others. Shakespeare also often omits words from sentences to create dramatic effects. Shakespearean language can be difficult to comprehend, however first one must learn to manipulate his sentence structure before manipulating word usage for a more thorough understanding of his works.
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Shakespearean Wordplay

In order to understand and enjoy Shakespeare's many plays, one must belabor with the meaning and intention behind Shakespeare’s wordplay. A majority of this wordplay include puns and metaphor. A simplistic view of Shakespeare’s language can lead to unintelligible understanding. In order to sense the double meanings of the wordplay, the reader must stay alert to the sounds of words. Shakespeare also affects his wordplay with a plethora of metaphors, such as “an unweeded garden that grows to seed” (xxii). The use of metaphors enhances the language beyond Hamlet’s banal expression, which conceives the description of the scene. Through Shakespeare’s play on words, there is an expression of storytelling that is interesting and easy to relate to.
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Implied Stage Action

One of the major aspects of Shakespearean literature is that it is performance script. Therefore, the plays are meant to be acted out, by use of stage directions, which accent the dialogue. The use of vague stage directions leaves the stage action to be varied from “production to production”, depending on each director's’ own perception. The “implied stage action vitally affects our response to the play” (xxiii). Therefore, Shakespeare allows the reader to formulate his/her own opinions, by basis of their own assumptions and cultural opinions; the play will have a different meaning to every person, therefore stimulating its own image as literature. The question of stage directions augments Shakespeare in the reader’s own imagination, which leads to the pleasure that is gained from poetic drama and remarkable language.
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