Language, form and structure in Hamlet.Hey all. :) Good to meet you. I'm having trouble working out what my teacher means when she talks about the language form and structure in Shakespeare's...

Language, form and structure in Hamlet.

Hey all. :)

Good to meet you. I'm having trouble working out what my teacher means when she talks about the language form and structure in Shakespeare's Hamlet. I find it hard to read Shakespeare at the best of times, but I'm having trouble analysing the language. Form is baffling me and structure, well, I'm totally lost. Does anyone have any words of wisdom or any links that they would like to share with me?

Much appreciated!


Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One help to understanding the text of the Shakespearean plays is right here on enotes.  When you go to the play and add text--for example: entire play will come up for you to read.  Alongside of the original text is the text in Modern English with the archaic phrases and words translated to aid your understanding.

After 1066 and the Norman Conquest, the influence of French was tremedous in England and many of the French words and meanings were adopted even after English became the language of literature.  So, if you struggle with a word, consult the dictionary for the archaic definition.  Sentence patterns (word order), too, may be different as a result of the French influence in which adjectives come after nouns, for instance.  In the 16th century English, verb parts differ as well.  What is now the past form is sometimes used as the past participle as in Romeo and Juliet when Lord and Lady Montague seek Romeo in Act I.  They ask Benvolio, "Have you saw him today?" instead of Have you seen him today.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A few other points to consider -- the plays were meant to be seen, not read.  Reading the modern translation can be helpful in understanding what's going on, but I find it more instructive to read summaries instead, then read the Elizabethan English.

....and reading Shakespeare should be done from the First Folio, which is as close as we can get to what the author intended.  Over time, others have added "improvements" to the text.  Particularly important to be aware of is the use of punctuation -- periods, commas, semicolons, and even exclamation points did not mean the same thing in Shakespeare's day as they do to us; in fact, they are tacit stage directions for the actor, and many of them have been rearranged to suit "modern" concepts of grammar.  Reading the Folio helps to see in your mind's eye what would have been seen by an Elizabethan audience.

epollock | Student

What I suggest you do is look for a modern English translation of the play on-line, there are many good sources like one from enotes from a previous poster,, and then when you think you can handle some of the line yourself, try to read a play without notes or a translation. It does take some time, energy and effort, but it is worthwhile.

erithehedgehog | Student

Thank you very, very much!! :) I have discovered two meanings for the phrase "Get thee to a nunnery!" and this has been of great help. :)