Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds What do you think of when I say the word Shakespeare? Perhaps the famous Chandos portrait of the man himself. Perhaps the Globe Theatre in London. Perhaps if you visited Stratford-upon-Avon, the place where he was born. Perhaps pain suffered at school. Hopefully not. If you were with me now, in Lancaster, a city in the North of England, I could point you to the figure on the front of the gatehouse of the castle. Here we see John O’Gaunt who was the Duke of Lancaster in the 14th century. On one side of him, is the coat of arms of his son, Henry IV, and on the other side is the coat of arms of his grandson, Henry V.
Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds All three of them are characters in Shakespeare’s plays, but none of these, the portrait, the globe, the house in Stratford, the Shakespearean characters would matter a jot if it were not for what Shakespeare crafted in language. And that is precisely what this course will focus on, which means I’m standing in the wrong place. That’s more like it. A library. Libraries are where copies of old books and manuscripts are often preserved for our investigation. Here we might find the first folio of 1623, the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s works. Perhaps a facsimile copy. Many genuine copies of this are held in the Folger Shakespeare library, in Washington DC, in the USA.
Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds And surely it is in libraries that we will find everything there is to know about Shakespeare’s language. I’m actually standing in Lancaster University’s library, which is typical of many university libraries around the world. On this shelf, I can see dotted about three, four, maybe five books about Shakespeare’s language. But, if we look down these shelves, all of the books we see are about Shakespeare and his context. They may be relevant to his language, but they are not actually focused on his language. All this seems a bit paradoxical of course because it is the language that creates characters that creates plays that are celebrated for their ingenuity and so on. And all of this means I’m standing in the wrong place.
Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds That’s more like it. OK. I’m not surrounded by dusty tomes. But that, to some extent, is a romantic image of research from the past. These days, the computer is a key tool, not only accessing research on Shakespeare’s language, but actually doing that research. On this course, you will learn about Shakespeare’s linguistic backdrop, the kinds of words and structures that were available to him, and see how he exploited them. We will focus on what Shakespeare’s words meant to the Elizabethan audiences, how they constructed particular characters, or particular types of character, male or female. Along the way, we will debunk a few myths, such as did he really coin thousands of words.
Skip to 3 minutes and 15 seconds We have been addressing such issues as part of the Encyclopaedia of Shakespeare’s language project here at Lancaster University. And we have been doing this with computers. That is a key aspect of this course. You will learn how to use a computer to interrogate our resources and do such research yourselves. And, don’t worry. If you can buy a plane or train ticket online, you have sufficient computing skills to do the course.