COMMENT – Euphues (YEW-foo-eez) was a fashionable speaking style for plays, and in real life, in the decades before Hamlet was written. Euphues was popularized in John Lyly’s romance, “Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit”, and was characterized by excessively wordy, circuitous prose, using a lot of words to make simple statements. Although popular, it was also beginning to be parodied as a pompous speaking style during Shakespeare’s life, and it has been suggested that he chose to highlight that style solely in the character of Polonius so audiences would recognize the parody (although this moderator feels there were plenty of other passages in “Hamlet” which could also be accused of circuitous prose…)

QUESTION – Shakespeare’s work, as a whole, is often accused of being too “formal” and out of reach for the average contemporary audience. How did you handle the text of Hamlet? Did you struggle? How do you feel the message would have held up through time had his prose been “simpler”. Does the loftiness of the writing style help retain its significance in the English language canon?


4 thoughts on “Euphues

  1. I studied it in high school and then again in college where I majored in English. I didn’t have a problem with the language. But a lot of people do, and the library now offers the “No Fear Shakespeare” for high school students. Each page has 2 columns. One column has Shakespeare’s text and the other translates his words into modern English.

    I think his message would have held up if the writing had been simpler. I think more people would read Shakespeare on their own if the writing were more accessible.


  2. I was assigned Shakespeare in high school – Hamlet, Julius Caesar, etc – but didn’t understand the plays. I just memorized soliloquies and let teachers tell me what he meant. I didn’t appreciate Shakespeare as a poet until grad school, as a playwright when I taught an introductory literature course. [I assigned a modern English version of The Merchant of Venice, with the original on the left side of each page.]

    Is Shakespeare too formal? For his audiences, no; for ours, yes. Language changes over time, but his work didn’t change with it. This is why we have modern Bible translations, alongside the King James Version. So there’s nothing wrong with updating Shakespeare for modern audiences. And it isn’t the lofty style that keeps him in the canon but the modern plots and characters. Otherwise, Shakespeare would be another literary antique.


  3. Shakespeare’s plays are not graphic novels (oooh, that’s a thought). The circuitous language, the irony, the sarcasm, soliloquy, filibuster… playing with words is a great part of it. Learning how to read it is enjoyable!! Honestly, why does everything have to be simplified? My accelerated freshman comp class offered a choice of a character from Hamlet or Measure for Measure for the term paper. I chose Gertrude from Hamlet… The paper nearly wrote itself!


  4. “Hamlet,” and Shakespeare in general, can be a struggle to work out, but the meaning and worth of Shakespeare’s works aren’t out of reach. He’s written some rich stuff — considerably loaded dialogue in highly symbolic contexts. It takes real effort to get more than a surface-level understanding of what’s going on, but it’s worth that effort.

    The No-Fear Shakespeare editions are well-crafted simplifications of the plays, and they’re a great help to the student and the stymied reader, but they should just be a portal into exploring the actual text. A total switch to simplified language would close off valuable dimensions of meaning. I don’t think Old Bill would have been relaying the same message with simpler prose. Polonius may be speaking in a euphuistic style, but Shakespeare’s language is more richly complex than excessively ornate.


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