Comparing syntactic strategies for proximity and distance in the verse/prose comedies of Shakespeare and Jonson
‘A great feast of Languages’: Shakespeare’s Language and the Language(s) of Shakespeare’s time
Sapienza University of Rome
This paper is based on a current collaborative research project related to Shakespearean syntax. Curiously, while much has been made of the significance of lexis, phonology, grammar and dialectal variation in discursive analysis of the plays, there has been sparse critical concentration on Shakespeare’s syntactic strategies. Culpepper (2001: 202) has drawn attention to the often under-rated significance of syntactic features in Shakespearean texts and suggested that more research is required in this area. He also notes, like Hope (2010: 169) and also Hussey (1988: 75), how syntactic nuances in the Shakespeare text help to establish characterisation. However, such discussion is usually restricted to instances where syntactic features relate to cognitive organisation of speech. Following on from two previously published co-authored studies of syntax in Shakespearean serious drama and in that of his contemporaries, our current project, of which this paper forms part, pursues the conjecture that the comedies, relying more on vernacular speech style, make less use of archaic features than the serious plays.
The paper will interpret the findings of an empirical quantitative study on Verb Second (pronominal subject-verb inversion) usage and avoidance in the verse/prose comedies of Shakespeare and Jonson. Five early Shakespeare comedies are compared to five later comedies, and these later comedies compared to the prose and verse comedies of Shakespeare’s contemporary, Jonson. The principal aim of the study is to analyse and evaluate stylistic effects and vernacular influences in the choice or avoidance of what was by the early modern period a syntactic archaism. Finding a measure of syntax closer to the vernacular is inevitably challenging in the absence of spoken data from this period. However, the hypothesis is that we expect to find fewer examples of the Verb Second construction in Shakespeare’s earlier comedies than in his earlier historical plays and fewer still in his middle period comedies; moreover, the comparison with Jonson will suggest this is not only a function of stylistic idiosyncrasy or language change, but also of setting and context, and intrinsic to the dramatist’s evocation of spatial/temporal proximation or distancing of the play.
Ingham, M. (2016, October). Comparing syntactic strategies for proximity and distance in the verse/prose comedies of Shakespeare and Jonson. Paper presented at ‘A great feast of Languages’: Shakespeare’s Language and the Language(s) of Shakespeare’s time, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome.