How does contemporary English differ from the English in the play in Romeo and Juliet?
Many people, upon being told they’ll have to read a Shakespeare play, fear they won’t understand it because it’s in Old English. In fact, though, Shakespeare didn’t write in Old English, he wrote in modern English – that’s right, the English you use every day is the same English used four hundred years ago. Some words from that time have fallen out of use, and sometimes he’ll make a reference to a historical event or an old legend that isn’t familiar to us today, which is why we sometimes need to check footnotes. But the language is the same. Shakespeare enjoyed using language in weird ways; he had a reputation even while he was alive of writing stuff that was sometimes hard to understand. It’s not because the writing is old-fashioned, but because no one, before or since, has used words in quite that way. So really, the language of “Romeo and Juliet” is the same language we speak, it’s Shakespeare’s particular style that sometimes makes it challenging. But a good actor in a good production can make it clear as a bell.
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