This essay proposes a new genre of Shakespeare reference work. The dictionaries, glossaries, lexicons, indexes, and concordances that philologists have compiled over centuries include only a fraction of the symbolic resources that Shakespeare employed in writing the poems and plays. A constructicon of the kind described in this essay would aim to inventory not only words and fixed phrases but also linguistic forms: abstract, variable, and productive sign units (associations of signifier and signified). Digital tools have only recently made building this new kind of reference work feasible. Advanced corpus query tools allow us to study linguistic forms by locating them in large collections of digitized early modern documents. Hypertext and relational databases are needed to organize and make available for consultation a huge repertoire of combinatory symbolic units of varying complexity and abstraction. Building “Shakespeare’s Constructicon” would not simply be a positivist exercise in collecting more facts about Shakespeare’s works; it would also prompt us to revise our accounts of both his linguistic creativity and his dependence on the linguistic community of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.


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pp. 113-136
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