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Diversions: Shakespeare's Use of Hendiadys
I've read two really good books on Shakespeare recently. WILL IN THE WORLD
by Stephen Greenblatt and A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE--1599
by James Shapiro. Both facinating in their attempt to put flesh and bones on
the myth we know as Shakespeare.
Shapiro had a new take on Hamlet; which I consider the greatest play in the
English language. He taught me a new word---'hendiadys' and I learned as
well how Shakespeare made use of hendiadys in his quintessential work.
Quoting and paraphrasing Shapiro:
In writing Hamlet Shakespeare used and invented more words than ever
before. The roughly four thousand lines in the play required nearly the same
number of words. Shakespeare introduced 600 words in Hamlet that he had
never used before. Two thirds of which he would never use again. King Lear
with 350 new words is the only one to come close. There are 170 words or
phrases Shakespeare coined writing Hamlet.
But it wasn't just the words he chose but how he used them that make the
language of Hamlet so challenging. He used an odd verbal trick called
'hendiadys.' It's a strange term but some examples are "law and order,"
"house and home," or the Shakespearean "Sound and fury." Hendiadys literally
means "one by means of two," a single idea conveyed through a pairing of
nouns linked by "and." Hamlet often speaks in this way. Exclaming "Angels
and Ministers of grace defend us" declaring that actors are "the abstract
and brief chronicles of the times" Speaking of "the book and volume of my
brain" or complaining of "a fantasy and trick of fame."
It's very hard to write in hendiadys; almost no other English writer did so
very often before or after Shakespeare. Nowhere is its presence felt more
than in Hamlet, where there are sixty-six of them, or one every sixty lines.
Othello with twenty-eight has the next highest count.
There's a kind of collective desperation to all the hendiadys in Hamlet - a
striving for meaning that both recedes and multiplies as well as an
acknowledgment of how necessary and impossible it is to suture things
together - that suits the mood of the play perfectly."
To me both books along with Park Honan's SHAKESPEARE A LIFE put a new light
on old or ancient subjects which makes it enjoyable to re-read a freshly
I thank the gods not only for Shakespeare but to those who continue to write
about him expaining his humanism and reminding us how special he was and
So put this in your pipe and smoke it.
"There are more things in HEAVEN AND EARTH than are drempt of in your
Peace and Love to all,
Monkeyfinger Shakespeare Dave.
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