|There are several interesting differences between the modern system of expressing comparison and the one available to Shakespeare. To express a higher degree, present-day Standard English allows either an inflected form (bigger, biggest) or a form consisting of more than one word (a periphrastic form), such as more / most interesting. Lower degree is always expressed periphrastically (less / least happy). The choice with higher degree depends largely on the length of the adjective, with words of one syllable taking an inflection (bigger, longest), words of three syllables or more appearing periphrastically (more / most interesting),
|| and words of two syllables sometimes going one way (happier rather than more happy) and sometimes the other (most proper rather than properest). There are also some special cases: adjectives derived from verb participles, for example, never take an inflectional ending, even if they are only one syllable long (a most pained expression, never a paindest expression). Adverbs also allow the expression of comparison: sooner / soonest, more carefully / most carefully.
Many examples in Shakespearean English work in the same way; but there are several differences. The most noticeable feature is the use of double comparison, where an inflected and a periphrastic form appear together, producing a more emphatic expression:
There are also several cases where an inflectional ending is used where today we would use the periphrastic form.
There are rather fewer cases where a periphrastic form is used where today we would use an inflectional ending.
And there are a number of cases where modern Standard English would not use a form of comparison at all, but Shakespearian English allows it. They include some words expressing absolute notions (such as chief), which today are generally not compared. Several of these forms can still heard in regional dialects, of course, and some (such as littlest, worser) are now considered immature or uneducated.
||littlest [cf. smallest]
||worser [cf. less bad]
Occasionally, both modern English and Shakespearian English have inflected forms, but they are different. This is the case with farrer (TS IV.ii.73), where we would today say farther or further. Older is sometimes used where we would today say elder, as in Sonn 22.8, ‘How can I then be elder than thou art?’
Lastly, it is important to note that, when an inflected and a periphrastic form co-exist, the choice can be exploited poetically, to suit the demands of the metre. A case in point is AY III.v.51--5 [Rosalind to Silvius]:
You are a thousand times a properer man
Than she a woman ...
And out of you she sees herself more proper
Than any of her lineaments can show her.
This is probably why we find more sweet (AY II.i.2) alongside sweeter (MV V.i.100), more grave (TN I.iv.28) alongside graver (Cor III.i.106), and so on.