by Anna Geldert, sophomore writing coach
You may have missed it, but this past Tuesday (just two days before Poem in Your Pocket Day!!) marked a very important day in the history of the English language. So gather up your “wherefores”, your “alases”, and your “thees” because April 23rd, mine cousins, is National Talk Like Shakespeare Day!
William Shakespeare was born in 1564. Throughout his lifetime, he came to write at least 37 plays and 154 sonnets. To honor the legendary playwright’s birthday, April 23rd has been named “National Talk Like Shakespeare Day”.
Many of you are probably moaning inwardly right now, thinking back to the struggle of reading Romeo and Juliet in your 9th grade English classes. But be not afear’d! Talking like Shakespeare is not actually as difficult as it may seem. Below is a useful key to help you out with some common Shakespearean phrases:
- Thou— you, when “you” is the subject of the sentence (as in, “Thou art wonderful”)
- Thee– you, when “you” is the object of the sentence (as in, “Shall I compare thee…”)
- Art– are, present tense
- Wert— were, past tense of art
- Alas!– unfortunately, sadly
- Thy– your, when “your” is followed by a consonant (as in, “Thy backpack”)
- Thine– your, when “your” is followed by a vowel (as in, “Thine apple”)
- Hark thee!– Hey you!
- Cousins– friends
- Wherefore– why, for what purpose (When Juliet asks “wherefore art thou, Romeo?” it translates to “why are you Romeo?”, referring to her conflicted feelings about falling in love with someone from the Montague family)
If this isn’t challenging enough for you, try adding some iambic pentameter. This sounds daunting, but it really isn’t too bad. The iamb part of the word simply refers to the idea of alternating between stressed and unstressed syllables, and penta means five. So each line written in iambic pentameter is just five sets of stressed and unstressed syllables as seen in the famous passage below:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date
-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18
Shakespeare also employed the use of rhyming couplets in many of his plays and sonnets, indicated by the underlined in Sonnet 18. He typically followed a simple AABB or ABAB format, rhyming the last words of each two lines in a row or every other line.
Personally, my favorites are the Shakespeare’s insults. There are no shortage of foul language used to badmouth an enemy. In Shakespeare’s world, if someone was being obnoxious you might call them a “lump”, or a “foul deformity”. The insults gradually increase, ultimately amounting to “Banbury cheese”, “three-inch fool”, and “frusty nut with no kernel”.
Hopefully with this explanation, you will be able to breeze your way both through English class and through National Talk Like Shakespeare Day! You can also stop by the Writing Center today, on Poem in Your Pocket Day, to grab a sample of Shakespeare’s work. Farewell, fellow sirrahs and mistresses, and good luck to thee!