By my troth, ‘tis National Talk Like Shakespeare Day! The 23rd of April is William Shakespeare’s birthday, and what better way to celebrate than by learning his lingo?
But if the words of history’s most famous playwright are all Greek to you, we’ve got some tips to get you and your writing in an Elizabethan mood.
1. Get the Hang of Thou and Thy
Dost thou struggle with thy pronouns? Because that’s all “thee,” “thou,” “thy,” and “thine” are: archaic forms of the second-person pronoun, “you.”
● Thou = You (subject)
Thou shouldst read more Shakespeare.
● Thee = You (object)
Shakespeare is good for thee.
● Thy = Your
Find thy copy of Shakespeare’s Complete Works.
● Thine = Yours
Shakespeare is my favorite author, who is thine?
To make things even more confusing, if the noun after “thy” starts with a vowel, you should use “thine” instead:
Thy eyes art the window to thy soul. ✗
Thine eyes art the window to thy soul. ✓
While all these “thee”s and “thou”s might sound fancy to us nowadays, in Shakespeare’s time they were actually a casual way to address someone of equal or lesser status – like your best friend, or your comic-relief servant.
2. Practice Your Insults
While Shakespeare is renowned for his romantic sonnets and soliloquies, he was equally skilled at crafting brutal – and in some cases downright bizarre – insults.
Next time you’re writing a passionate argument, take inspiration from some of these classic jibes:
● You bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog. (The Tempest)
● Thou dost infect mine eyes. (Richard III)
● I do desire that we may be better strangers. (As You Like It)
● I am sick when I do look on thee. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
● A fiend like thee might bear my soul to hell. (Twelfth Night)
● The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes. (A Comedy of Errors)
● Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat. (Henry V)
● Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows. (Troilus and Cressida)
● You cullionly barber-monger. (King Lear)
Sometimes, though, it’s the simplest jabs that leave the biggest impact:
What, you egg! [While stabbing him] (Macbeth)
3. Borrow Phrases from the Wordsmith
Auspicious, generous, majestic – there’s a reason Shakespeare was known as a wordsmith. Lots of the words and phrases he used in his works were ones he made up himself (including the three at the start of this paragraph!), and many are still in use today.
Here are some genuine Shakespearisms you can use in your own writing:
● The world is my oyster – This popular phrase from The Merry Wives of Windsor suggests that one can achieve anything. However, it’s usually quoted without its more violent second part: “The world is my oyster / Which I with sword will open.”
● In one fell swoop – Shakespeare uses the image of a diving bird of prey in this chilling term from Macbeth. It refers to a terrible act that happens all at once, though is more often used just to mean “suddenly.”
● Shuffle off this mortal coil – A less well-known passage from Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy, this phrase is a gentle (and puzzling) euphemism for death.
● The game’s afoot – Something exciting is about to happen, and it may or may not involve a murder! Though more commonly associated with Sherlock Holmes, it’s Shakespeare who’s responsible for this line from Henry VI.
If these turns of phrase have inspired you, why not take a leaf from the bard’s book and invent some new words yourself?
And when you’re done writing “til your ink be dry” (Two Gentlemen of Verona), our team of expert editors is available 24/7 to proofread your work. Submit a free trial document today!