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Are Shakespeare's works written in Middle English?

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Scott David eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The previous Educator has already answered this question, so I'll try to provide some additional context which might prove useful. To begin with, though: no, Shakespeare is not Middle English. He actually wrote in Elizabethan English, which is still classified within the confines of Modern English.

The thing to keep in mind is that the English language has evolved very slowly across centuries. This can be traced back to what is called Old English, a language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. With the Norman invasions from France, Old English began to break down, and eventually Middle English would take its place.

Middle English, as the previous Educator has already pointed out, is associated with the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries and was primarily shaped by the introduction of French influences into the English language, in the aftermath of the Norman conquest. Further evolutions within the language would result in the emergence of Modern English, which, to quote Merriam Webster, "extends from the sixteenth century to our own day." As the previous Educator noted, Middle English is the language of Chaucer, and it is largely incomprehensible to most modern readers. Do be aware, though, that Old English is even more incomprehensible to us than that.

See the provided link below for more information concerning the evolution of the English language over time.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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No.  The works of William Shakespeare are written in what is known as Early Modern English.  Middle English was used between the late 11th and late 15th centuries.  Shakespeare was born in 1564, well after the date of 1470 that is usually given as the end of the era of Middle English.

A major piece of literature that was written in Middle English was The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.  If you look at a little bit of that work in the original, you will see how different it is from original Shakespeare material.  Here is the beginning of Chaucer's work in the original:

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Chaucer's Middle English is essentially unintelligible to us whereas Shakespeare's language is archaic, but basically understandable in the original.

Thus, it is clear that Shakespeare is not writing in the same language as Chaucer.

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