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Tasks: The Language of Shakespeare

Coloured drawing: Theater scene from the Elizabethan Age. Actors are all dressed up in colourful costumes. One wears a donkey mask over his head. There is a crowd watching the play. Clues such as a sign saying "a wood near Athens" hanging on the wall, as well as the man with the donkey head tells us that this is a production of William Shakespeare's play ' A Midsummer Night's Dream'
Åpne bilde i et nytt vindu


Below, you will find a list of words and greetings that Shakespeare often used in his plays. Work together in pairs and write a short Shakespearean-style dialogue. Include pronouns, verbs, general expressions, and greetings.

Use your imagination and have fun! Read (or act) out your dialogue for the others.

Speak like Shakespeare

This list is by no means complete. You will find more on the internet.

Personal pronouns

  • thou = you (nominative: 'thou hast risen' – 'you have risen')

  • thee = (singular) (objective: 'I give this to thee' – I give this to you)

  • thy = your (genitive: 'thy name' – 'your name')

  • thine = your (possessive: 'what’s mine is thine' – 'what's mine is yours')

  • ye = all of you ('ye all shalt listen' – 'all of you have to listen')

Some contractions

  • tis = it is

  • t’would = it would

  • t’will = it will

  • t’was = it was

Some greetings:

  • How dost thou?

  • How fares thou?

  • Bless thee

  • Good morrow

  • Good day

  • Farewell

  • Fare ye all

Some common verbs:

  • hath/hast – has or have

  • hadst – had

  • wilt – will

  • doth/dost – does, do

  • didst – did

  • art – are

  • canst – can

  • shalt – shall

  • shouldst – should

Some general expressions:

  • Prithee/pray = please

  • I beg of you = listen to me

  • Fie on thee! = Shame on you!

  • I marvel much! = What! I am surprised!

  • By my fay! = You’ve got to be kidding!

  • Alas = Oh no! Poor me!

  • T’would be folly! = That’s crazy!

  • By my troth = I swear it!

  • Nay = no

  • Aye = yes

Other useful words:

  • hie = hurry

  • wherefore = why

  • anon = soon

  • oft = often

  • whence = where

  • hither = here

  • thither = there

  • yonder = over there

  • jest = joke

  • sooth = truth

  • knave = bad person, villain

  • discourse = conversation

  • kinsmen = relatives

  • methinks = I think

  • else = otherwise

  • hark = listen

  • whence = where

Shakespearean idioms:

These idioms were all originally created by Shakespeare. Match the idiom and the definition.


If you really want to appreciate Shakespeare, you should try to read his texts aloud. In the plays, the texts do not rhyme, but there is a very clear rhythm that gives the text energy and drive.

Read the following excerpt from Richard III, where he explains why he has chosen to become a villain.

Which words would you accentuate? Where would you pause? Are you able to find the rhythm?

Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments,
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front:
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber,
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up –
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me, as I halt by them –
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun,
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.


The following passage – 'The Seven Ages of Man' – is from Shakespeare's play As You Like It. It is a monologue by Jacques, who is a philosopher with a melancholic, pessimistic view of the world. In this passage, he describes the futility of life and explains how all humans go through seven distinct roles that begin at birth and end with death.

First, read through the monologue a few times. Then try to rewrite the passage into modern English. Remember that you do not have to translate the text word for word but should try to capture the overall meaning.

Write down everything you understand first, then go back to the difficult parts and try again.

As You Like It: The Seven Ages of Man (Act II, Scene VII)

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like
furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

If you want, you can watch an animation where the passage is read aloud.
Link to the TED webpage: Animation of all the world's a stage.


mewling = crying or whining

puking = vomiting

satchel = a school bag

furnace = an incinerator, a boiler

woeful = sad

ballad = a story told through a song

pard = a big cat such as a leopard or panther

seeking the bubble reputation = doing things that make you look good even if they are pointless.

capon = a castrated rooster, a luxury food

severe = harsh or stern

wise saws = wise sayings or proverbs

modern instances = new judgements or decisions

lean = thin

pantaloon = refers to the sixth stage of life. The character of Pantalone is a foolish old man from Italian comedy.

hose = stockings

shrunk shank = describing how a man's legs have grown narrower with age ('to shrink' = grow smaller, 'a shank' = a piece of meat cut from a leg of an animal)

treble = the high voice of a small boy

oblivion = nothingness

sans = the French word for 'without'

CC BY-SASkrevet av Karin Søvik.
Sist faglig oppdatert 08.09.2021


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