shakespeare's dictionary

romeo and juliet: aesthetics
  • romeo: a disassembled jigsaw, bright pieces spread colourfully over a green blanket; lipstick marks from a good friend's mouth on one's cheek and brow; the heat of your own flushed cheeks; streaks of strawberry sauce in a banana milkshake, bright pink cutting through the yellow; a drop of sugar, sweet on the tongue and not yet dissolved into a sloppily made builder's tea; warm hands sliding under someone else's shirt; laughter heard on the wind, warm despite the chill of the breeze; the snag of his woollen scarf on her coat button in the midst of a kiss, followed by giggles and awkward shuffling; soft gasps in the dead of night; whimsical tales bound in high-brow black leather.
  • juliet: a white dress laid on a newly made bed; fresh-picked lavender and heather in a vase upon the sill, reflecting lilac against the windowpane; the warmth of a new fireplace; the scent of a summer breeze; a piano heard in the next room, fingers smooth against the clean keys; a series of cloth-bound books in every hue, clean of dust and shelved colourfully along the wall; drops of blue and pink dye into cake mix, showing swirls of colour in thick white with each shift of the spoon; baked biscuits, pressed flowers, the texture of parchment and the satisfying, smooth roll of a new pen over a blank page.
  • benvolio: the sensation of sliding into a hot bath after a long day; soft sighs into cups of steaming cocoa; shared smiles in the dark, laughter muffled by someone else's shoulder; the smell of old books and baking bread, clinging to a broad-shouldered jacket; a grip slightly too tight on your wrist, firm but not sadistic; a thick, red blanket laid over the back of a comfortable chair; gold braid in places gold braid doesn't need to be; a proffered piece of sweet chocolate that melts on the fingertips.
  • mercutio: glitter smeared on someone else's bedroom door; loud laughter heard just over a song's bass line; an affectionate hand sliding over a good friend's shoulders; freshly cooked lamb laid to rest on the kitchen side; bruises and scuffs that ache on the knees; a white shirt cut so low it might as well be an open vest; a stack of CDs and dog-eared books on a bedside table; an unmade bed with three people sleeping in a row, the cat laid over three feet and purring; a hot shower after coming in from the pouring rain; wide grins shared over good beer.
  • tybalt: the drag of eyeliner over sensitive skin; a bed made tightly with black shining sheets and a half-dozen pillows stacked neatly at its head; a bloody fingerprint on the spine of a well-loved book; the metallic hiss of a blade through the hair; dead flowers tied with ribbon in an antique vase; new shoes settled on a chair awaiting polish; a wardrobe full of crisply ironed, clean shirts; black hair, long and sleek and tied back at the neck; an empty photograph frame hung on a plain wall; a red ribbon curled around the stem of a champagne flute.
A Spectrum of Specters
“I have heard (but not believ'd) the spirits of the dead
May walk again: if such thing be, thy mother
Appeared to me last night; for ne'er was dream
So like a waking.”

–William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, III, iii

The English language has many words to describe spirits and other spectral beings thought to appear in dreams, haunt houses, or roam the hillsides. Some spirits are believed to represent the souls or personalities of the dead. Others are said to exist as supernatural beings in their own right. Within these two broad categories of spirits, there are dozens of specific variations. A spirit can be tangible or intangible, loud or quiet, innocuous or malevolent. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference was between a ghost and a poltergeist, a banshee and a wraith, and other uncanny beings, read on!

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Booksellers Say They Bough Shakespeare’s Personal Dictionary on eBay

Scholars say that William Shakespeare used as many as 30,000 different words in his plays and poetry. They further estimate that he knew about a quarter of all the words circulating in English during his lifetime.

This is remarkable, and it raises a question: How did he learn them? Some, we know, he invented; some he borrowed from Latin or French. But others he simply looked up, in any one of a number of reference books available to Londoners in the late 16th century.

Now, two New York City booksellers say they have found one of those books. And it’s not just any guide: This is William Shakespeare’s dictionary, owned and annotated by the man himself.

For more than half a century, many scholars have believed that Shakespeare consulted a 1580 dictionary published in London called An Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie. Assembled by Cambridge Latin instructor John Baret, the Alvearie was one of the most popular dictionaries of its time. It was “quadruple” because it covered four languages: English, Latin, Greek, and French.

Read more. [Image: Koppelman, via the Folger Shakespeare Library]

In honour of Book Lover’s Day, here is a dictionary slip for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary from the OUP Archives, to illustrate usage of the word ‘book’. This slip was written out by Chief Editor James Murray and in it he actually quotes himself for inclusion in the dictionary! His quote is from an address to the Philological Society in 1884.

[Quote: “I do not know what a book is…was Shakespeare the author of one book or of forty- four books?]

Image courtesy of OUP Archives