Shakespeare's Grammar is a generous, innovative, and ambitious book. To appreciate it fully, it is important to see how the book has at least three key aims and as many different potential audiences. The book aims to provide, first, a reference grammar for Shakespeare specialists; second, a guide to descriptive grammar for beginners; and third, a resource for potential stylistic critics. The book was commissioned by the Arden Shakespeare with the intention that it replace the third edition of E. A. Abbott's Shakespearian Grammar1 as the reference that grammar editors would consult to help them annotate or explicate unfamiliar or problematic syntactical constructions in Shakespeare's plays. Given Hope's plan to update Abbott's alphabetical listings by providing twenty-first-century nonspecialist readers with a systematic descriptive grammar of Shakespeare's English, he has rightly determined that his book needs to "educate as it explicates" (4). Here, he is confronting head on the problem of how alien the subject of grammar has become. While some of his British and North American readers will have a sprinkling of [End Page 469] prescriptive grammar and dimly recall the "naming of parts" in school, a large proportion will probably lack any systematic overview or descriptive tools.
Hope's educative purpose both innovates and takes this relatively specialized study back to basics, but Hope situates his double address to Shakespeare experts and beginning grammarians by historicizing the role Abbott's Shakespearian Grammar itself played in the creation of "English" as a school subject. Abbott's text has been a part of the Shakespeare editor's specialized equipment for so long that it may come as news that Abbott, a headmaster and educational reformer, meant it to be used as a textbook to further vernacular language study among nineteenth-century schoolchildren. So Hope too offers a study that can make basic education in English grammar newly relevant by putting it on the solid footing of descriptive linguistics. This educative function is closely related to Hope's third aim—to encourage interest in a reinvigorated stylistic criticism attentive to syntactic innovation—since stylistics has died within literary studies primarily because it is impossible to practice or understand without the basics of grammar. The multitasking agenda is accomplished by means of an unusual layered and recapitulative structure. Each of the two main parts of the grammar, treating noun phrases and verb phrases, begins with a stylistic overview, moves on to an overview of relevant grammatical features for beginners, and finally ends with the detailed discussion of Shakespeare's grammar. A valuable glossary recapitulates definitions given or assumed in the body of the text.
The stylistic overviews are wonderfully succinct and informative, offering readers a preliminary glimpse at the kinds of payoff Shakespeare's Grammar can potentially offer to literary critics. Hope has argued elsewhere for the need to go beyond historicizing the social and cultural contexts of Shakespearean drama to historicize the code itself of Early Modern English. In his view, Shakespeare, writing on the cusp of standardization, was especially well placed to exploit the linguistic variations of Early Modern English—that is, the potential interest of situations where different linguistic forms (such as you and thou for address in the second-person singular) were available and competed for the same role. Thus, demonstrating the literary potential of linguistic features, the stylistic overviews in Shakespeare's Grammar illustrate methods of close analysis that should be a welcome addition to any critic's tool kit.
Can this short grammar (about half the length of N. F. Blake's AGrammar of Shakespeare's Language ) fill all its stated functions and still provide a reliable reference for Shakespearean editors? As an early test case, it is clear that Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor's new edition of Hamlet uses Hope's volume to good effect in its twenty-one citations.2 Consider, for example, how it helps them to explain pronoun forms and their variations—the theme in seven of the citations. We learn that "his" is the usual neuter form...