William Shakespeare – When didst thou die?

The Chandos portraitThat is an easy question, isn’t it? Well, let me say that the answer is a bit far more complicated. It is usually assumed that William Shakespeare was born and died on the same date: 23rd April (by the way, St George’s day – the patron saint of England) and thus, we celebrate Book Day on that date since our Spanish genius, Mr Cervantes, also died on the same date.

However, we tend to forget that Spain and England did not use the same calendar at that time. Spain started using the modern-day Gregorian calendar in 1582, whereas Britain (and England) decided to keep the Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar) until 1752. The reason why Pope Gregory XIII decided to introduce the new calendar was connected with the celebration of Easter and the spring equinox, that is, with the old Julian calendar there was an error of 1 day every 128 years on the date of the spring equinox. The solution was simple: they moved the date eleven days ahead (4th October 1582 was followed by 15th October 1582) and changed the rules for calculating leap years (a year with 366 days)

So if we take these changes into account, 23rd April should become 3rd May. This is the reason why we are going to commemorate Shakespeare this week by doing special activities in some subjects and changing the English we usually speak so that it sounds a bit more like Shakespeare… It’s easy… Just follow this simple advice:

1. Instead of ‘good morning’ use ‘Good greetings, my lord / my mistress‘ and don’t say ‘good-bye’ but ‘fare thee well

2. Forget ‘you and your’ and start using ‘thou‘ and ‘thine‘ (or thee, when ‘you’ works as object, for example, I love thee (x I love you).

3. ‘Please’ is too modern… why don’t you use ‘pray‘ instead?

4. Let’s work on our verbs and let’s add ‘-(e)st‘ to singular second-person verbs and ‘-(e)th‘ to singular third-person verbs, for example, “thou knowest” (x you know) and “she hath” (x she has)

5. Let’s omit the initial ‘i’ in ‘it’, for example ‘twas‘ (x it was).

6. And last, but not least… whenever you want to give your opinion, don’t forget to start your sentences with ‘methinks‘.

The influence of Shakespeare on modern English is huge. To put it briefly, he introduced lots of new words in English and a few expressions which are still used today, for example, ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’ (from Richard III). If you want to know more about how much English has changed since Shakespeare’s time, you can watch Professor Crystal on the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s English (©the Open University):

Have a look at some of the beautiful posters students in 2nd E have prepared and stay tuned… (Audio recordings of some of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies will soon be available…)


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Some useful links:

Complete works of Shakespeare: http://shakespeare.mit.edu

Dictionary (Shakespeare’s English): http://www.shakespeareswords.com/Glossary

How to talk like Shakespeare: http://talklikeshakespeare.weebly.com/tips-to-talk-like-shakespeare.html