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Reviewed by:
  • Interlinguicity, Internationality and Shakespeare ed. by Michael Saenger
  • Don Rubin
Michael Saenger, ed. Interlinguicity, Internationality and Shakespeare. McGill-Queen’s University Press. xii, 284. $32.95

At the risk of adding yet more jargon into contemporary scholarship, I must say right off that I went into this book with deep skepticism that it could really add to anyone’s knowledge of Shakespeare. The created word interlinguicity, even after reading this book, is not a term needed by either theatre people or even Shakespeare scholars, but I must admit that there may be something in it for linguistic scholars of the early modern period seeking to understand the nature of language generally and the roots of modern English particularly.

Filled with jargon—the editor’s own introduction is little more than linguistic anthro-babble—many of the essays neither are insightful nor contribute to a greater understanding of Shakespeare’s texts. Yet patience and tenacity are rewarded here, beginning from about the middle of this [End Page 376] collection of essays, all loosely connected by a shared interest in the fluidity of Shakespeare’s language in English linguistic history.

The essential question being asked by these dozen American and Canadian scholars is really whether or not the dramatist and poet Shakespeare was writing in what we would call English or whether Elizabethan English was itself just a growing blend of Old and Middle English with French, Greek, Latin, Italian, Gaelic, and Welsh (to name just a few of the other languages used in London at that time) tossed in.

Indeed, Paula Blank’s essay “Shakespeare and Early Modern English” suggests that her essay is nothing less than an attempt to “resituate Shakespeare’s language” in the “story of English.” The essays that stick to that tack are worth reading; too many others veer away and are not helped in any way by the editor. This is particularly true of the first three essays—one on Navarre and Love’s Labour’s Lost by Elizabeth Pentland of York University, one on the use of Welsh in Henry IV, Part I by Phillip Schwyzer of the University of Exeter, and one on the use of the Devil in religious debates and performances in the Netherlands and England by Gary Waite of the University of New Brunswick. All drift far from the essential subject and seem more filler than argument.

Part Two of the volume starts to settle into a much more germane discussion with an essay by Scott Newstok of Rhodes College, who looks at what he calls Shakespeare’s twinomials (pairings), a surprisingly interesting subject. Aside from the author’s tendency to use infuriating words like collocated, Newstok does look perceptively at plays such as Henry V and even into Elizabethan common law for examples of just how often we anglophones seem to “twin” words for emphasis—to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, lusts and appetites, help and comfort, sanctify and bless.

Perhaps we do it because one half of those twinomials has a Germanic root while the other half has a Latinate root. For whatever reason we seem to do it lot even in law—will and testament, goods and chattels, acts and deeds, free and clear, pardon and forgive. Such combinations, we are told, go back to the Old Testament and into oaths in Old English, and certainly can be found in Chaucer, but their use and growth in the sixteenth century were really quite extraordinary.

The best-written essay in the collection is by Robert Watson of the University of California, Los Angeles, focusing on Shakespeare’s ability to coin new words. He argues persuasively that Shakespeare drew paying customers to his plays by appealing to “their need for cutting-edge social tools,” things they could use outside the theatre to show how trendy and cool they were. Indeed, Watson tells us, the Elizabethan theatre was a “knowledge market place” with plays as lecture-demonstrations of new ways of assembling words into arguments and “a means of self-improvement for the working classes … In the alchemy of the Shakespearean stage, words could be turned to gold.” [End Page 377]

The aforementioned Paula Blank...


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pp. 376-378
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