I have begun trying to read Shakespeare.

My problem is I can't understand the writing at all.

Why is Shakespeare so hard to understand? I hope that I am not the only one that finds it hard to read.

For example, I don't understand the uses of study in the following. And all my attempts at consulting dictionary definitions have not helped. Is "study" a noun or a verb here? Is the author saying that "study" means "common sense"? And how can study have a "recompense"? And what about "forbid"? Shouldn't it be "forbidden"?

Long. You swore to that, Berowne, and to the rest.

Ber. By yea and nay, sir, then I swore in jest.
What is the end of study? let me know.

King. Why, that to know which else we should not know.

Ber. Things hid and barr'd, you mean, from common sense?

King. Ay, that is study's god-like recompense.

Ber. Come on then; I will swear to study so, To know the thing I am forbid to know;

  • First thing, it's off topic. Second it was old time, the grammar is right according to their time. If you read poetry, then yes sometimes it is hard to understand, i believe poets have a different mind than us. So, yes it is sometimes hard for all of us. – MihirUj Jan 28 '15 at 18:29
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    Questions that don't have real answers, like "Do you find Shakespeare hard to understand too?" are off-topic here - this SE blog post might help explain. Some folks don't find Shakespeare hard to understand, or find it hard to understand for different reasons than others do. If you have a specific question about language, we might be able to help. This thread on meta has some good advice meta.ell.stackexchange.com/q/439/9161 – ColleenV Jan 28 '15 at 19:50
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    Because Shakespeare's plays are 400 years old and because he uses poetic language which is new to you. You can't read Shakespeare the way you read a modern detective novel. It is a lot of work to learn Shakespeare's vocabulary and his artistic language. Many editions of Shakespeare's plays have a lot of annotations as to vocabulary and expressions. – rogermue Jan 28 '15 at 20:19
  • I think this is an excellent question about learning English, and I'm sad to see it closed. There are valuable, specific things to point out about Shakespeare to explain why his writing is so hard to understand. A thoughtful answer to this question could be one of the best answers ever posted to ELL. – Ben Kovitz Jan 28 '15 at 23:27
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    @J.R. Would that I knew enough of Shakespeare's works to write an answer worthy of the question! Can only hope 'tis met by one that lurks more wise than I--but thanks for the suggestion. – Ben Kovitz Feb 3 '15 at 10:18

Perhaps because Shakespeare (early modern English) uses a lot of different grammar, pronunciations, sentence constructions and word meanings than we do. His texts are not "full of grammatical errors" according to the way English was used back then.

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    In addition to the time in which it was written, it's worth mentioning that most of the plays were written in poetic form to some extent. Shakespeare isn't "hard" merely because the language is "old". Back then, I doubt people spoke in pubs as though they were on Shakespeare's stage. – J.R. Jan 28 '15 at 20:37

This bit is not nearly as obtuse, arcane or archaic as commenters make it out to be. "study" as a verb means the same as it does in modern English. The third instance is clearly a verb, in its infinitive form: I will swear to study.

The other instances of "study" are noun forms. These days, we would probably use the gerund "studying" instead. For example, "What is the end (i.e., the aim, purpose or result) of studying?"

And no, studying is not "common sense"; it is the means to discern things which are "hid" (hidden) and "barr'd" (barred) from common sense; i.e., things which are normally not accessible to common sense.

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