Die Schulleitung hat die Mitglieder des Fachkreises Anglistik gebeten, während des Frühlingssemesters vier Wochenbriefe zu verfassen, in denen Shakespeare-Zitate besprochen werden. Der dritte Beitrag stammt von Eva König.

Martin Zimmermann, Rektor

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.

Romeo and Juliet, Act II

Wochenbrief 21: 23. – 27. Mai 2016

Do you speak Shakespeare? – Yes, you do!

When Juliet says ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, she means that the word ‘rose’ is part of culture not nature, so it can be changed. She means that Romeo’s name is not Romeo’s true nature, and by any other name he would still be Romeo. If he changed his name from Montague to Capulet, then the name of her enemy would be gone and they could be together.

Well, Juliet’s idea of changing language is not very easy because language is the product of a community, not just of an individual. But, an individual can still have a lasting influence on language and Shakespeare is famous for giving the English language around 1700 words and phrases that we still use today. He changed language because he was a writer and he wanted to say old things in new ways. Shakespeare also invented words to say new things. He lived during the Renaissance, when the English language was changing fast because it needed new words to express new ideas in science, politics, philosophy and also to describe the new cultures in the New World.

So Shakespeare changed the English language, but he also influenced other languages around the world. The phrase ‘fair play’ is in the vocabulary of many languages. His works are translated into most languages from Albanian to Zulu and translators of his plays had to find ways to translate Shakespeare’s language into theirs. This includes the innovations in vocabulary that Shakespeare added to the English language. The consequence is that we all speak Shakespeare! In German, for example, there are many famous sayings that come from Shakespeare’s plays. Here are some from Hamlet: ‘To be or not to be – Sein oder nicht sein.’ ‘The rest is silence – Der Rest ist Schweigen.’ ‘The time is out of joint – Die Zeit ist aus den Fugen.’ Even the titles of some Shakespeare plays have become aphorisms: Much Ado about Nothing – Viel Lärm um nichts.

People usually say that Shakespeare’s language is difficult to understand. That is sometimes true, but his stories are worth reading in the original because the words are part of the magic of his plays. He wrote for all levels of society because theatre audiences included the upper-class and the lower classes. He employed classical rhetoric to impress and please his educated audience, while the sexual jokes and rough slapstick comedy amused everyone including the simple workers.

So, there is something for everyone in Shakespeare. You speak Shakespeare, so why not read him?

Eva König, English teacher