chapter  4
“Strangers enfranchised”
Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the mother tongue
ByElizabeth Bernath
Pages 15

In 1582, Richard Mulcaster reflected on the shape of the growing body of English. To familiarize his readers with hard words, Mulcaster tried to standardize the written expression of "plane" English From among the lexical strangers, Mulcaster explained, he wanted to select the most useful lexemes with which to instruct students in common English. A diachronic perspective on the expanding English language in Shakespeare's time may be read from the explanatory text in hard-word glossaries. A comparison of the hard words in Shakespeare's Hamlet with the diachronic evidence of lexemes incorporated after the literary text gives a comparative sense of how hard lemmae became part of the enfranchised lexicon. Lexicons of Early Modern English is a historically sensitive lens that reveals the dynamics of Early Modern English's expansion, including Shakespeare's role in familiarizing hard words. The majority of Shakespeare's language in Hamlet consists of words of the mother tongue.