Each of the words in the Glossary has been recorded in both Modern English (ME) and Early Modern English pronunciations - what in Shakespearean contexts is usually referred to as 'original pronunciation' (OP). All forms are spoken by a single person (David Crystal), the same voice quality making it easier to hear the similarities and differences across time.
Several words in both periods have more than one pronunciation. For ME, we follow the variants as presented in the online Oxford English Dictionary; for OP we use the system presented in The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation
To hear the audio, click on the loudspeaker icon next to the word. Each word is heard twice. If the pronunciations in ME and OP are the same, you will hear the sequence: 'WORD - and it's the same in OP - WORD'. If the pronunciations differ, you will hear first the ME pronunciation(s) followed by a pause, and then the OP pronunciation(s).
The audio file is also hyperlinked to the glossary words as they appear in the Modern or Folio texts. If the 'show Hyperlinks' box in the menu is checked, you will see these words highlit. If you do not want to see them highlt, uncheck the 'show Hyperlink' box. In the case of multi-word glossary entries (such as set down
, fare thee well)
, only the first word in the text is highlt.
The modern movement to hear Shakespeare's plays and poems in OP began in 2004, when Shakespeare's Globe in London mounted a weekend production of Romeo and Juliet
in the reconstructed accents of the time. The welcome given to this experiment led to a short season of Troilus and Cressida
in OP the following year, and a growing number of productions in other countries, especially the USA. As of 2021, eighteen of the plays have been given full OP performances, along with extracts of others. There have been occasional productions of plays by contemporary Elizabethan writers, as well as OP performances of the Sonnets.
Outside of the theatre, OP has been used in early music performances and in prose texts, notably the King James Bible. Much of what has taken place can be seen in the archive at the dedicated OP website: www.originalpronunciation.com
. A catalogue of the recordings made by David Crystal for theatre companies, as well as the Sonnets and extracts from the King James Bible, can also be found on that site.
There is now a considerable literature on the background and use of OP. The introduction to The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation
(2016) is the fullest account, and shorter accounts of the phonetic character of OP and the issues surrounding its reconstruction can be found by typing 'original pronunciation' into the Search box at www.davidcrystal.com
. The story of the first Globe production is told in Pronouncing Shakespeare
(2005, updated in 2019).
The historical dimension should not make us lose sight of the importance of hearing the words in Modern English. This is something that second-language learners of English have frequently requested, and there are of course several words in the Glossary about which native-speakers of English may feel a degree of uncertainty, such as abiliments, gyves
, and oeillades
, classical names, words where the metre indicates variation in stress, and names and expressions in Latin or French.
When people are using Shakespeare's Words with a group, such as an acting company or a class of students, it can be useful to be able to download a whole play or poem and print the pages for circulation. Up to now, this was possible only in a very limited way, for the First Folio, and scene by scene.
Now a whole play or poem can be downloaded as a pdf, and printed, using whatever configuration the user wants. There are four columns on a text page:
- the First Folio text
- the Modern English text
- the definitions of glossary words
- the key lines of the modern text
After clicking on PRINT in the Menu above a text, a box appears showing all four options. You select the options you want, and then download or print through your computer in the standard way.
All texts available in a First Folio or Quarto edition
We included the main Folio and Quarto variants in the first edition of the book, and now add a transcription of the whole text of each play and poem in their original form, using the First Folio and (for the plays that were not included in that Folio, and for the poems) their earliest Quarto.
These are shown in two forms: a parallel presentation, showing the original form of each line in the modern edition; and an independent presentation, in which the text is seen as a whole without any adaptation to the modern edition. For details of the process, see here
All distinctive First Folio or Quarto spellings
We've now included the original text spellings of all words in the Glossary
entries where these differ from the modern spelling.
For example, the Folio text of Coriolanus
includes such forms as meere
(piece), and Inforce
Forms of this kind are now shown in the relevant Glossary entry, as well as alongside the line in the Folio/Quarto text.
If there's no Folio/Quarto spelling noted, the spellings of the word in the original text and in the modern version are identical.
The Circles are now interactive
These diagrams show the Circles
within which people move during a play, so that their relationships to each other, either individually or in groups, can be better understood. They proved to be one of the most popular features of the original book, so we've now made these interactive.
Click on the name of a character who has a speaking part in a play to display all the lines of that character.
All the lines
a character says
We included line counts for each character in the first online edition. We retain this feature in the new edition, but supplement it by displaying all the lines spoken by a character, either in a whole play or in an individual scene. You find these by clicking on a name, either in the play's Circles
or in the list of characters by part size
or by scene
(in Starting Points).
This captures the spirit of the cue-scripts used by Elizabethan actors, and provides a convenient source for anyone wanting to obtain an overview of what a character says throughout a play - or, for actors, an indication of how many lines have to be learned! The lines are shown both in the modern edition and in the Folio or Quarto text.
Choosing a character name from the list presents all the lines that the character says.
Choosing a play title will take you to the first place in the play where that character speaks.
Further links to
Topics and Themes
We've extended the functionality of the Themes
areas: clicking on a reference takes you directly to the part of the play in which the example occurred.
We've also added definitions to any words or phrases where the meaning is not immediately obvious (such as i'fecks
in the Swearing panel).
We've also added all the proper names in the Themes section into the glossary, so that their definitions appear alongside their use in the texts. Most of these names haven't changed their meaning since Shakespeare's day - such as the gods of mythology, astrological terms, and British place names - but this feature will help anyone who is unfamiliar with these domains.
Searching now avoids 'not found' responses
In the first edition, if enquirers typed a word incorrectly, or used a spelling not in the modern edition, they would get a 'not found' search result.
We've now rebuilt the search engine to offer users a 'did you mean?' feature, which removes such dead-ends.
Act and scene lengths in words as well as lines
In the previous version of the site, we showed the number of lines for each act and scene.
Now, in the Starting Points area of the site, we also show the number of words per scene
- especially useful when looking at scenes wherre there are short verse lines or where speeches are in prose.
All lists can now be viewed in ascending or descending order.
Auto-complete glossary and speaker search
We've added an auto-complete function to glossary searches so that you can immediately see related glossary entries. Try typing a word…
It’s also now possible to see an alphabetical list of all the glossary items that occur within a single play.
We've also added auto-complete to the speaker search in Advanced Search
, so that you can find a name quickly. Start typing MA... and up come Malvolio, Maecenas, and others. Clicking the name you want takes you straight to the search.
Finding nearby words
Using our Advanced Search
, it's now easy to see if a particular word is being used nearby a search word - such as happy
near to fair
- within the same line - or up to four adjacent lines.
This feature can also be used to search through the database as a whole, or for your own selection of particular texts or speakers.
Works - by title or year created
You can now order the Works
as you wish to view them, alphabetically or by the best guesstimate year of creation.
Searching selected plays or characters
Using our Advanced Search
, it’s now easy to find all instances of a word used in a particular play - or set of plays - or in a particular poem - or set of poems - or by a particular character - or set of characters.
For example, we can discover whether the word ''love'' is used more in Romeo and Juliet (133 times) or Two Gentlemen of Verona (144 times). Or, within the former, which of the lovers uses the word more often (Juliet 31, Romeo 45).
Mobile / tablet adaptive
The Shakespeare’s Words site is now mobile-adaptive, so you can now explore Shakespeare's works like never before on your mobile device, cell-phone, or tablet. We couldn’t afford an App, but at least SW.com now fits in your pocket.
Thanks to hardware developments over the past decade (not to mention some sophisticated Czech-based programming) the site now runs at least SIX times faster than its previous incarnation.
And depending on your connection speed, as much as TEN times faster than SW.com 2.0...
The Thesaurus is the opposite of the Glossary. When consulting the Glossary, you know the word and you want to find out what it means. When consulting the Thesaurus, you know the meaning, and you want to find out which Shakespearean words express it.
This is a Thesaurus of all the senses of the English content words we put into our Glossary. So it doesn't include:
- grammatical words (such as of, with, thou and whereat)
- exclamations and calls (such as holla and sessa)
- words that characters get wrong (malapropisms)
- words in Latin, French, or other languages.
It is a guide only to the words in the Shakespeare's Words Glossary and not an account of the way these words might be used elsewhere in the canon or in Early Modern English as a whole. For example, we include Shakespeare’s use of mother to mean 'womanish qualities', but not in its ordinary sense of 'parent'. And with a concept, such as 'colour', we include only those items where the meaning differs in some way from Modern English (such as brown, dun, paly).
The Thesaurus contains 58,363 items, grouped into 31,358 entries.
How to use the Thesaurus
When you look up a word in the Glossary, you are usually given two or three glosses - for example, scrip is glossed as 'bag, pouch, wallet'.
If you then look up bag in the Thesaurus, you'll see scrip and the other words in the Glossary used for the notion of carrying something in a small container: bladder, cloak-bag, mail, poke, and purse. You can click on any of these words to see their meaning and where Shakespeare uses them.
It's important to look at the quotations as well as the Glossary definitions, as these provide the context for the glosses. For example, bag containing the great seal shows purse (n.). Clicking on this will take you to the Glossary entry, and there you'll see the Headword locations where it's used - only in Henry VIII.
Sometimes, because of the alphabetical ordering of the headwords, related items can be separated. For example, when searching for leg, the words leg and legs are separated by legend, legal, and other items.
Some uses of the Thesaurus
You can see in one place all the Glossary words that relate to a particular meaning - all the words to do with 'anger', for instance, or 'archery'. We already include a few themes like weapons and swearing in our Topics section
. The Thesaurus extends this approach to all
the meanings covered by the Glossary.
You can explore Shakespearean English in a more systematic way - for example, finding the words for 'high quality' (such as delicate
) along with those for 'low quality' (such as meagre
You can find a Glossary word whose meaning you vaguely remember - a 'mischievous boy', perhaps? Or if you've forgotten a name, but you know it's something to do with 'weeping'?
- Look up mischievous or boy and you'll find wag.
- Look up weeping and you'll find Niobe.
We use the term word-family to identify the set of words that contain the same basic element. For example, HEAD has 48 members - mainly compound words (e.g. heady-rash, hoary-headed), along with some prefixed and suffixed items (e.g. behead, heading) and its basic use as a noun or a verb. We list all the words in the canon (in its modern English version) that have family resemblances so that you can see which words Shakespeare used in this way, and - what is often ignored - which he did not. The groupings provide an additional tool to understand Shakespeare's lexical creativity.
The focus is on word-forms, so different senses will sometimes be brought together within a single family. This section thus presents a different perspective on vocabulary from what we see in the Thesaurus, where words are grouped on the basis of the senses they share.
Rather than present family members in a long list, we have grouped them into broad themes, which show the directions in which Shakespeare exploited this word - for instance, HEAD turns out to be far more used to express negative meanings (blockhead, idle-headed, etc) than positive ones (sleek-headed).
We hope that the thematic headings, seen with their family members, are self-explanatory, but there are two that require a comment.
- Under INTENSITY we list any words that intensify the meaning in some way, such as (under LOVE) well-beloved and thrice loving.
- Under NOT we include any words that express a notion of 'oppositeness', such as (under BEARD) beardless, lackbeard, and scarce-bearded.
There is always an element of subjectivity in deciding whether a word belongs to a particular theme. For example, defiler is usually a person, but in Timon of Athens it refers to gold. In such cases we followed the way the word is used in the text - so defiler is placed in the OBJECTS theme rather than the PEOPLE one. Similarly, under DAZZLE, bedazzle, although a verb, is placed in the STATE theme - because Katherina (in The Taming of the Shrew) is talking about the state of her eyes at that point. There are many cases like this, where the classification depends on how the reader interprets the text.
Despite the uncertainties, there are many clear cases where the thematic approach is illuminating. It shows, for example, that GAIT is used only with reference to slowness, not speed. It shows that in several families the NOT category is especially present, sometimes outweighing the other members of the family: see, for example, COMFORT, CONTENT, CURE, DAUNT, ORDER, PERFECT, and SANITY.
The most interesting families, in our view, are those which contain a large number of members with a varied thematic use: see, for example, BLOOD, DAY, DEAD, DOG, COLOUR, EYE, FACE, FOOT, HAND, HEAD, HEART, HIGH, HOUSE, LOVE, NIGHT, MAN. There are some unexpected words in this 'very large' category - THREE, for instance.
But also interesting are the words which have no families. To take just four examples, we might have expected to see more members under such words as ATTACK, EGG, HAT, and LAKE.
And for those who have an interest in Shakespearean trivia, this page can be used to generate all kinds of weird questions, such as: 'There were twelve pence in a shilling. Which pence amounts did Shakespeare never mention?' See PENNY for the answer.
Each family lists its members in the following sequence:
Basic forms come first, with their suffixes, e.g. under HATE
hate n - hate v - hated adj - hated n - hateful adj - hatefully adv - hatred n
These are coloured grey in the spider diagrams.
Themes come next, listed alphabetically; but any opposites are listed separately at the end, under NOT (coloured black in the spider diagrams).
Within a theme the members are listed alphabetically.
Some statistical data
- There are 8463 headwords in the lists.
- Of these, 2168 are cross-references of the type UNSHOUT see SHOUT.
- Of the remaining 6294 headwords, 2229 have no family members, and 1274 have just two (often a noun and a verb).
- Just over a thousand (1061) have six or more members.
- The top ten families are MAN (97 members), LIKE in its sense of 'similar' (91), THREE, WELL in its sense of 'very' (67), HEART (66), WARD in its sense of 'direction' (52), HEAD (48), DAY (46), and HIGH and TIME (both 42).
Points to note
All lexical words in the canon have been included in Word Families. Excluded are:
- Grammatical words (such as the, and, of) unless they have a corresponding lexical use (as with some prepositions which are also used as adverbs - without and through, for example).
- Proper names, unless they have given rise to derived forms, such as Roman and Romish from Rome.
- Non-English words, such as those from Latin and French.
- Dialect forms, such as the Scottish variants in Henry V.
- Mispronunciations, such as those used by Dr Caius in The Merry Wives of Windsor or the respellings of Holofernes in Love's Labour's Lost.
- Inflectional endings, such as plurals, comparatives, possessives, past tenses.
The Glossary shows us that many words have a wide range of meanings - the various senses of play, for example - amuse, perform, show, etc. We keep these together unless there is no etymological link (as in bear the animal and bear the action of carrying) or the senses have diverged so much that we don't think of them as belonging to the same family (as in plot referring to land and plot referring to a plan). In cases like these, we adopt the distinctions used by the Oxford English Dictionary.
We have also kept the families small. It would be perfectly possible to construct 'super-families' - bringing together all the words ending in prove, for instance (approve, improve, reprove...), but the result would be very large groupings that wouldn't be very easy to explore. So you will find approve etc shown as separate families in this list.
A word of caution
We have followed editorial practice in our source texts when dealing with hyphenated forms. Editors vary greatly in their practice, and aren't always consistent - Editor A might decide to print ill disposed, thinking of ill as separate from disposed, while Editor B opts for ill-disposed, thinking of it as a single word. Our focus has been on hyphenated forms, with just a few exceptions (such as the various numerals, where we include all instances, hyphenated or not), so it's possible that some word families have further members.
Want even more new features?
While completing the update and redesign of this 3.0 of ShakespearesWords.com, we were already wondering about what the 4.0 might include.
For this iteration, we've built in all the suggestions for new features that we've been sent over the past ten years.
We now welcome further thoughts about what would make this site even more useful. Videos? Quartos? Original Pronunciation?
Please send any and all (Shakespeare-related) suggestions, requests, and ideas to us via our Contact us
page, & we'll do what we can to accommodate.