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Philology 5: Shakespeare and Early Modern English


Admission requirements

Successful completion of Philology 1, 2 and 3 or equivalent.


As the most frequently cited author in the Oxford English Dictionary Shakespeare certainly deserves to be studied closely, and that is what this course offers to do. We will study his usage against the background of the language as it was developing during the Early Modern English period, and in doing so, we will focus on his vocabulary (including his unique word formation practices), his grammar (including the rise of the so-called NICE-properties of the auxiliary do), and evidence of English pronunciation of the period. We will also study various pragmatic aspects of his plays, including the language of politeness and usage of you and thou. We will study all these linguistic aspects with the help of a corpus analysis of a selected number of plays. One question we will attempt to answer is whether the OED correctly highlights Shakespeare’s language to illustrate usage of the period he lived in. In addition, we will test whether it will be possible to decide with the help of WordSmith Tools if the so-called “spurious and doubtful works” can indeed be said to be of Shakespeare’s hand.

Course objectives

This course builds on experience acquired during the first two years of the BA curriculum in English philology, particularly as it regards the history of the English language. Focussing on Shakespeare’s language by way of a case study, students will gain a good insight into the most important characterustucs if the language of the Early Modern English period (1500–1700). With the help of a concordancing program they will learn to to analyse and identify the characteristics of the language of the period, and how to interpret the results of their analyses. They will thus be well equipped with analytic methods by the time they start writing a BA thesis in the field of Early (or Late) Modern English.


The timetable will be available by June 1st at the website.

Mode of instruction

A two-hour seminar per week.

Assessment method

Presentation and active course participation (20%), final essay (80%).


This course is supported by Blackboard.

Reading list

Terttu Nevalainen (2006). Introduction to Early Modern English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
David Crystal (2008). Think on my Words: Exploring Shakespeare’s Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Students should register through uSis. First-year students cannot register through uSis. They will be registered by the administration. Exchange studentens cannot register through uSis, but must see the director of studies and register with her. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Departmental Office English Language and Culture, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144; mail:
Studentcounsellor Bachelor: Ms. S.H.J. Bollen, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103B.
Coordinator of Studies Master: Ms. K. van der Zeeuw-Filemon, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103C.