With bizarre words like "Peradventure", "Wherefore" and "Methinks", perfectly confident A1 Literature students can still be dumbstruck when they read Shakespeare. For many, the language is the biggest barrier in understanding Shakespeare better. Which is a shame, as some of the best stories in Literature were penned by him.
As a way to counter this, it helps to think of Shakespeare's words not as a completely new language, but more like listening to someone speaking in a strong accent. You have to allow your ears to adjust to the new accent, and then your mind to match it to the English that you are familiar with.
If even then you are still confused about some phrases, it helps to see the overall context and other visual cues of that particular chapter. What is the speaker trying to convey? What are the emotions he/she is feeling at that moment? Pretty soon you'll be able to understand more of what is written.
Here are some tips for navigating your way through the words used in Shakespeare's plays, and hopefully this serves as a cheat sheet for your future readings:
1. Thee, Thou, Thy and Thine = You
The first four words you'll usually be hit by when you open up a Shakespeare book are "thee", "thou", "thy" and "thine".
"Thee" and "thou" are used instead of the word "you", and "thy" and "thine" instead of the word "your".
This is because back in the olden days of England where Shakespeare is from, the older generation would use these words when they are referring to people of status or authority, such as when addressing a member of the royal family.
As Shakespeare's plays mostly revolve around the lives of characters from the middle to upper-class, those words appear more often than not. Fun fact: In the rare occasions that Shakespeare do refer to the common peasants in his stories, the words "you" and "your" do appear at times.
2. Art = Are
The word 'art" is used in place of the word "are". So a sentence beginning with "thou art" would mean "you are"
3. Don't, Do and Did
One thing to note is that in Shakespearian English, the words "don't", "do" and "did" are not used as they simply wasn't created then. So, instead of saying "don't kill me!", Shakespeare's characters would have said "kill me not". Or instead of "what did she look like?", they would have said "what looked she like?"
This is why there are some unfamiliar sentence structures in Shakespeare plays. But the meaning of the sentence can still be discerned even though the words are not in order.
4. Would = Wish
Although the word "wish" does appear, such as when Romeo says "I hope you sleep peacefully. I wish I were Sleep and Peace, so I could spend the night with you." in Romeo & Juliet, the word "would" is often used in place of that instead.
Words used in Shakespeare sometimes have a weird "-eth" tagged to the end of them, making them sound super alien even thought the meaning of the words remain the same. But that was just the way things were done then.
For instance, "say" will appear as "sayeth" and "speak" will be "speaketh".
6. Anon = soon, presently, shortly
What might seem like "anonymous" in today's modern English, back in Shakespeare's time, that word is used to mean soon or shortly.
For example, in Hamlet, Hamlet says to his potential wife Ophelia "You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago's wife" which in the sentence is to mean 'you shall see soon'.
7. Ay = Yes, No = Nay
“Ay” simply means “yes”, and "Nay" simply means "no". So, “Ay, My Lady” means “Yes, My Lady”. This form of saying yes or no is still used in certain areas of Northern England. But back in the olden days of England, this was commonly used in all social circles.