15/07/2013 12:30 BST | Updated 13/09/2013 06:12 BST

The Wonders of the Language of Shakespeare's Time

In terms of language development, the Early Modern period is an important signpost. It was a time when the English language was being enriched at all levels and would eventually grow into the subtle-potent tongue we know today. Shakespeare was living in an era full of linguistic diversity and growing innovation. It is acknowledged that the English language of our times is closer to Shakespeare's than Shakespeare's language is to Chaucer's. The success of the theatre business in the blooming age of Renaissance meant an increased need for linguistic creativity.

A book on this exciting period in the history of the English language which can be of great use to English language students is Charles Barber's Early Modern English published by Edinburgh University Press. It is a comprehensive book on Early Modern English containing various statistical data and is an excellent survey of the contemporary language trends.


The book is very readable - Barber does not abuse the linguistic terminology and his writing is illuminating, to the point and easy to comprehend. English language students will find Barber's Early Modern English a reliable reference. It provides the essentials of Early Modern English and is also of great help to anyone seeking reference for better understanding of Early Modern plays and other writings from the era. The author highlights the language rules of the period on examples from the contemporary works. Shakespeare, as an embodiment of the Golden Age, is quoted copiously to illustrate a common usage or a deviation from it.

What makes Barber's book stand out is the author's ability to balance academic scrupulousness and comprehensible discussions of Early Modern English. Anyone wanting to talk like Shakespeare will find the book handy. It is an easily accessible book to check your thou's and thee's and add your -th to the proper verb forms.

The chapter "Attitudes to English" is a remarkable overview of the language tastes of the period, the ongoing changes and the linguistic scruples that were shaping up. It gives a clear idea of the kind of linguistic criticism already heating up, the concerns and disputes of the purists, archaisers, neologisers, dictionary writers, spelling reformers and users of Latinate ink-horn words. It was a time for rhetoric and poetics, for bombast and artfulness and you will find a fine review of these linguistic fashions in Barber's book.

Charles Barber's Early Modern English can be obtained from Edinburgh University Press or other stores. I highly recommend the book to language students as well as to anyone interested in the history of the English language and in the versatile linguistic times of Shakespeare's blooming age.

So get thee a copy, go study it well. Replace your it's with 'tis, your he with 'a, your you with thou and ye; sign your email with Gramercy!, not Thank-you! and change your Best wishes! to Fair befall you! or I commend you to your own content! Ask How do you? - which is as much as to say How are you? And thou shalt brag thou canst talk like Shakespeare!