7 Old English Terms for Understanding Shakespeare

Last week was the 400th anniversary of the death of one of the world’s most famous playwrights: William Shakespeare. Why are his plays and poems still read, analyzed and performed so many years after they were originally published? Anyone who has read Shakespeare can certainly not claim his work is overrated. His peculiar style is, in my opinion, what makes his literature stand out and consequently timeless.

Although at first his plays may not be the easiest thing to read – the use of many words which today have become extinct in our day-to-day English does not facilitate reading- its elaborate metaphors and rhetorical language does not cease to amaze and captivate readers all over the world. Here are 7 “Shakespearean” terms which you might not have ever heard of if you’ve not read Shakespeare before:

1- Anon– It sounds like a northerner saying “a nun” but it actually translates to “straight away” or “right now”. “I come, anon.”

2- Art– Shakespeare does not use this term to refer to the human expression of creativity but rather as a synonym of the verb to be. We’ve famously heard it in “Romeo! Romeo! Where art thou Romeo?” or in “For where thou art, there is the world itself”. Which takes us to…

3- Thou– an archaic way to say “you” pronounced thau̇. Shakespeare uses this all throughout his plays and sonnets and as it was a term used in Old English, it can also be seen in ecclesiastical language: “Thou shalt not kill”. Today, the word “you” is common for gender and number, but in Old English there were many different words which were used instead of the personal pronoun.

4- For example, Thee was the singular objective case “he does not care for thee”.  And…

5- Thy is the equivalent of “your”. “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper…”

6- Hither– is an elegant alternative to “here”: “Come hither, young lad”

7- Ho– Today, it might sound like an insult to someone, but Shakespeare used it as an equivalent to “Hey”: ““O, ho, are you there with me?”