Shakespeare's Grammar


In the England of Shakespeare's time, English was a lot more flexible as a language. In addition, Shakespeare was writing as a dramatic poet and playwright, not as a scholar or historian. Combine the flux of early modern English with Shakespeare's artistic license (and don't forget to throw in a lot of words that have either shifted meaning or disappeared from the lexicon entirely), and there are some subtle difficulties in interpreting Shakespeare's meaning some 400 years after the fact. As with most popular playwrights of any era, Shakespeare uses language with facility and power, but with a colloquial freedom as well.

That having been said, there are a number of ways to unlock Shakespeare's meaning based on habit and context. The highlights—based on importance and frequency—are presented below.

Original material copyright © 2000 the Shakespeare Resource Center
No reproduction without permission of the editor.


Syntax Wherein we discuss the Bard's penchant for order inversion.
Rhetorical Devices Wherein we discuss the art of persuasive arrangement of words.
Usage Shifts Wherein we discuss some of the vagaries of the Bard's English.
Glossary Wherein we present a limited, searchable archive of words with definitions.

See also: Thou Pesky "Thou", a Shakespeare Resource Center overview of the Bard's usage of thou and you.


Alden, Raymond M. A Shakespeare Handbook. New York: F. S. Crofts & Co., 1925.

Bevington, David, ed. The Complete Works of Shakespeare (4th ed.). New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1997.

Corbett, Edward P. J. and Robert J. Connors. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Houston, John Porter. Shakespearean Sentences: A Study in Style and Syntax. Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1988

Schoenbaum, Sam. Shakespeare: His Life, His Language, His Theatre. New York: Signet Classics, 1990,,

A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices,

Rhetorical Figures,