One of the great pleasures to be found in reading Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets is the beauty of his phrases and the way he skillfully uses words to create images and evoke emotions. As one of the earliest and most prolific writers in the English language, there are words that appear in his texts that were never seen before. There’s some discussion as to whether Shakespeare invented all of those words, or whether he was just the first to put them in print, but many scholars do credit Shakespeare with the invention of dozens of vocabulary words that are just as useful today as they were in the 16th century. If you’re not familiar with these 400-year-old words, then it’s time to learn them – and to use them, whether you’re onstage or off. And … action!
discontent (DIS-kuhn-TENT) adjective
Definition: Not satisfied (“dis-” is a prefix meaning “not”).
Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house / In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
– Richard III
gnarled (NARLD) adjective
Definition: Twisted, knotted (the Middle English word “knar” referred to a knot on a tree).
Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt
Split’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak / Than the soft myrtle.
– Measure for Measure
dwindle (DWIHN-dull) verb
Definition: To decrease, decline, get smaller, lose force.
Weary se’n nights nine times nine / Shall he dwindle, peak and pine:
Though his bark cannot be lost, / Yet it shall be tempest-tossed.
moonbeam (MOON-beem) noun
Definition: A ray of light “coming from” the moon, though actually being reflected off the moon from the sun.
And pluck the wings from painted butterflies
To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes.
Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies.
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Read this post for more information on Shakespeare’s words and phrases. For further information on Shakespeare’s vocabulary, refer to Louise McConnell’s “Dictionary of Shakespeare.”