There is no individual writer who has wielded greater influence than Shakespeare over the English language. Shakespeare’s use of language is unique and appealing at times. He constantly satirized linguistic and stylistic fashions among his contemporaries and experimented with all kinds of innovations, dialectical adaptations and archaisms which enriched the English language.
One of the chief features of Shakespeare’s writing was his use of the English language to individualize the characters in his plays. According to Jespersen, “no author has shown greater skills in adapting language to character”.
Shakespeare’s Use of Language- A Criticism
In this context, Shylock, the most interesting creation of Shakespeare from the linguistic point of view deserves special mention as the language which Shakespeare put in his mouth was different from that of anybody else’s.
With Shylock, Shakespeare tried his hand at an Anglo-Jewish dialect. He had his Old Testament at his finger’s end. He swore by Jacob’s staff and the holy Sabbath and addressed his servant Lancelot as Hagar’s offspring.
Shylock used biblical words which were found nowhere else like synagogue, Nazarite, Publican and so on. The words used by Shylock were different from the accepted usage of his time. He says advantage in place of interest, usance in place of usury, equal for the estimable for valuable and rheum for saliva. Shylock uses the plural form of money which is rare in Shakespeare.
He alone uses some words like eanling, misbeliever and the verb bane which hasn’t been used by any other Shakespearean character. His syntax was peculiar which is exemplified by utterances like – “I have no mind of feasting forth tonight where it should be no mind to and “Rend out” where it should be only rend.
Shakespeare made Shylock’s language peculiar on purpose to stamp him as being out of the common lot, to mark him off as a Jew. This particular feature of Shakespeare’s molding of the English language for characterization shows us how much at ease he was with this language and is also indicative that Shakespeare is indeed a true master of English who enriched it with his innovations.
Shylock indeed is a perfect example to illustrate Shakespeare’s use of language for characterization.