Slang, as readers of Shakespeare know, affects the development of language as much as any genus of terminology. At Salon, Jonathon Green writes about the strange history of English slang, as part of an excerpt from his new book, The Vulgar Tongue. You could also read our own Michael Bourne on the use of “like” in modern English.
Who has a bigger vocabulary: Shakespeare or André 3000? It’s actually Outkast. Data scientist Matt Daniels created an infographic that charts 85 rappers’ unique vocabulary in their first 35,000 lyrics. Outkast uses 5,212 unique words; whereas, Shakespeare only uses 5,170. But Aesop Rock beats the Bard by more than 2,000 words with a count of 7,392 unique words.
Shakespeare invented more than 1,000 words when he was writing, and now we might be able to find out how. Two New York booksellers believe they have found Shakespeare’s annotated dictionary, John Baret’s An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionarie. Although scholars aren’t quite convinced, you can read the dictionary in full to decide for yourself.
What has changed in 450 years of performing, reading, writing Shakespeare? The history of women interacting with Shakespeare’s plays is also the history of women’s rights, suffrage, and of the feminist movement. It is a history of women being silenced and of finding ways to speak out anyway. Shakespeare has been, and is, an uneasy ally in this history. He complicates but also enriches our idea of what a woman is. Too often we are still Katherinas, forced to compromise our dignity in order to retain our voice, or else our insistence on speaking is blamed for our tragedies, like Juliet. But the reason why we still read Shakespeare’s women, is that they are women. Goneril, Juliet, and Katherina are finally not ciphers. Whatever else they may be, they are true women, and they have true voices.
Why is Hamlet so maddeningly indecisive? It’s a question as well-trod as any in literature, yet few people question that dithering is what defines the Prince of Denmark. In The Irish Times, Brian Dillon looks at another way of thinking about the character, one laid out in a recent book, that centers on the idea that Hamlet is crippled by “the burden of knowledge itself.”
More attention to Shakespeare’s collaborative career, now known to be larger than was thought, may yield a new portrait: a playwright who was also a shrewd businessman and a company man, who likely spent more time in the day-to-day thinking about the bottom line than the immortality of his verse. And that is a more likely and more useful way to think about the man from Stratford.