The translation of words in the Elizabethan language and vocabulary requires a Modern English to Elizabethan English Dictionary! The following link provides access to an Elizabethan dictionary for an easy to follow Elizabethan language guide. The translation and definition of the Elizabethan words and meanings used in the Elizabethan language make the literature of the era, including the works of William Shakespeare much easier to understand!
Translation of the Elizabethan Language
The reasons why the translation of some of the Elizabethan language is problematic:
- Many words used in the Elizabethan language are no longer in use. Other words have replaced them or the original meaning and use of the words are no longer required
- An amusing example of words now ‘extinct’ in the modern English language is ‘gong’. The Elizabethan word ‘gong’ meant dung. The men whose job was to empty and dispose of the waste from the privies (toilets) were called ‘Gong Farmers’!
- The Elizabethan alphabet contained 24 letters, as opposed to the present day alphabet of 26 letters
- In the Elizabethan alphabet, the letters “u” and “v” were the same letter as were and “i” and “j”
- The “j” was usually used as the capital form of the letter “i” in the Elizabethan alphabet
- The letter “u” was used only in the middle of a word, and the “v” was used at the beginning!
- Another letter which resembled a “y” was used to represent the “th” sound. The word “the” was therefore written in a similar way as “ye” would in the modern-day
- The written form of Elizabethan Numbers also cause confusion in translation
- Numbers were frequently written in lower case Roman numerals, with the last “i” in a number written as a “j”. For example – viij March
Shakespeare translations and understanding the real meanings behind some of the Shakespeare languages in the great plays and sonnets can be difficult. And this is hardly surprising when the expressions and their meanings have been obsolete since the Elizabethan era!
Meanings of any unusual Shakespearean words that you encounter whilst reading the works in the language coined by William Shakespeare can be checked in the online Shakespearean Dictionary by clicking on the appropriate letter of the alphabet.
The 16th century was a period when the English language was still being developed. It had not yet been strictly formalized. The word had to be written in various formats since a dictionary was not yet available. In fact, Shakespeare’s name was spelt and written in various ways in different places.
His name was written as Shaxpere, Shakespeare, Shakstaff, Shagspere etc. He himself always wrote Shakspere, although, in most formal documents, his name appears as Shakespeare.
A great deal of Elizabethan vocabulary also originated from Greek and Latin languages because the ancient texts of Greek and Latin literature were being translated by scholars in that era. A lot of words thus got added to the English vocabulary, either directly or in an anglicized version.
Interesting Elizabethan Words:
Grammercy – A words similar in meaning to ‘thank you’, grammercy was used in the Elizabethan era to express gratitude. It was sometimes spelt with a single ‘m’ depending on the user. It has its origin in old French and was a combination of ‘grant’ and ‘merci’.
Doth – Doth means in the same as ‘does’ in modern English. Shakespeare used the word frequently in his plays.
Around – the words meant ‘away’ in the Elizabethan period. The word is preserved by virtue of Shakespeare who used it in Macbeth: “‘aroint thee, witch! the rump-fed ronyon cried”
Heavy – in the Elizabethan era, the word heavy did not denote weight. It meant sad or depressed. Once again, it was often used by Shakespeare in his plays.