Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, Modern English

My opinion as to the chronology of English

  1. About 500 to 11th century — Old English, as spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. Many inflectional endings. Masculine, feminine, and neuter cases. Virtually incomprehensible to the modern reader. Sounds like a dialect of German.

  2. 11th century to about mid-fifteenth century — Middle English. Much less inflections. Only masculine and feminine cases. Many regional dialects. Eventual disappearance of the letters yogh and thorn (Chaucer used them inconsistently). Numerous borrowings from French. More comprehensible to the modern reader than Old English. Still sounds German. Chaucer wrote in the London dialect of Middle English.

  3. Early Modern English—About mid-fifteenth century to the Restoration. Great Vowel Shift. Much more comprehensible to the modern reader than Middle English. Sir Thomas Wyatt, Shakespeare, King James Version of the Bible was written in Early Modern English.

  4. Modern English—from about 1660 to present (i.e., from the Restoration. Much more comprehensible to the modern reader than even Early Modern English. Dryden, Milton, and people after him wrote/write in Modern English.

Comments

  • Statest16Statest16 Citizen, Mentor

    There is another thread on this but I think you got right,your pretty much right on.
    I would call the Old English period until mid-12th century because it likely took 75 years for the Latin of the Norman conquerers to make to the common persons speech.

    I would call Jacobian/Elizabethan/KJV English; personally late middle not early modern English.
    For two reasons;
    1.The great vowel shift did not end until 1650,so I'd start EME at 1650
    2.Jacobian/Elizabethan English is non readable unless your specifically educated in such.

    Yes I think you got right,there's some grey area's we disagree on but I'd your facts are just right.

  • KaramazovKaramazov Citizen
    edited December 2020

    (From perspective of modern British English)

    Difficulties in reading Shakespeare are more due to cultural references (recognising that this line is a knob gag, that one an astrological metaphor for the type of play it’s in etc) than vocabulary, grammar and so forth: which although archaic are still comprehensible. Definitely Modern, albeit from several centuries ago (British English spellings were never changed in light of the GVS, so text comprehension doesn’t have issues from that source).

    Chaucer is noticeably more difficult to understand, partly due to spelling conventions it must be said (soote in Middle English is sweet in Modern English): but the vocabulary and grammar is the major issue. Definitely pre-modern.

    Beowulf is incomprehensible without specialist training and study. Definitely an ancestral precursor language rather than the same language.

    Hence Shakespeare being taught in secondary school literature classes in the UK to teenagers who have had no specialist preparation beforehand, Chaucer being used for the occasion quote in a history textbook, and Beowulf being unmentioned (most English people I’ve referenced it to have never heard of it, or anything of the Anglo-Saxon period beyond the picturesque folk-tales of burnt cakes and arrows in eyes)

    What about the case of the split infinitives in all this?
    Common in Middle English, almost vanish entirely in Early Modern English... then start to make a (controversial to some) return in Contemporary Era Modern English.

  • verityverity Administrator, Citizen

    The Green Knight is Middle English.

    I think grammar and vocabulary is a more important marker of this than the pronunciation, since the pronunciation varies greatly anyway.

  • Statest16Statest16 Citizen, Mentor

    @Karamazov said:
    (From perspective of modern British English)

    Difficulties in reading Shakespeare are more due to cultural references (recognising that this line is a knob gag, that one an astrological metaphor for the type of play it’s in etc) than vocabulary, grammar and so forth: which although archaic are still comprehensible. Definitely Modern, albeit from several centuries ago (British English spellings were never changed in light of the GVS, so text comprehension doesn’t have issues from that source).

    Chaucer is noticeably more difficult to understand, partly due to spelling conventions it must be said (soote in Middle English is sweet in Modern English): but the vocabulary and grammar is the major issue. Definitely pre-modern.

    Beowulf is incomprehensible without specialist training and study. Definitely an ancestral precursor language rather than the same language.

    Hence Shakespeare being taught in secondary school literature classes in the UK to teenagers who have had no specialist preparation beforehand, Chaucer being used for the occasion quote in a history textbook, and Beowulf being unmentioned (most English people I’ve referenced it to have never heard of it, or anything of the Anglo-Saxon period beyond the picturesque folk-tales of burnt cakes and arrows in eyes)

    What about the case of the split infinitives in all this?
    Common in Middle English, almost vanish entirely in Early Modern English... then start to make a (controversial to some) return in Contemporary Era Modern English.

    If you are from England,went to a high school that taught real academics and went to at least under grad college.I'm sure reading Elizabethan English would not be a big problem.

    I used to know a college educated man with a IQ of 162 who could even read Chaucer in the original tongue.

    I have had the occasion to read Shakespeare and have looked a KJV Bible but have been told what is shown as such is not real Jacobian English and Real English of that ballpark era is out of print.

  • @Statest16 said:

    @Karamazov said:
    (From perspective of modern British English)

    Difficulties in reading Shakespeare are more due to cultural references (recognising that this line is a knob gag, that one an astrological metaphor for the type of play it’s in etc) than vocabulary, grammar and so forth: which although archaic are still comprehensible. Definitely Modern, albeit from several centuries ago (British English spellings were never changed in light of the GVS, so text comprehension doesn’t have issues from that source).

    Chaucer is noticeably more difficult to understand, partly due to spelling conventions it must be said (soote in Middle English is sweet in Modern English): but the vocabulary and grammar is the major issue. Definitely pre-modern.

    Beowulf is incomprehensible without specialist training and study. Definitely an ancestral precursor language rather than the same language.

    Hence Shakespeare being taught in secondary school literature classes in the UK to teenagers who have had no specialist preparation beforehand, Chaucer being used for the occasion quote in a history textbook, and Beowulf being unmentioned (most English people I’ve referenced it to have never heard of it, or anything of the Anglo-Saxon period beyond the picturesque folk-tales of burnt cakes and arrows in eyes)

    What about the case of the split infinitives in all this?
    Common in Middle English, almost vanish entirely in Early Modern English... then start to make a (controversial to some) return in Contemporary Era Modern English.

    If you are from England,went to a high school that taught real academics and went to at least under grad college.I'm sure reading Elizabethan English would not be a big problem.

    Not sure what you mean by real academics : at least at the time I was in secondary school the class was handed a set of copies of a play (Romeo & Juliet was the one in my school) and had to take turns in reading it out loud to the class, with breaks for class discussion as to what does this most recent passage mean: no prior lessons on Elizabethan language, culture or society whatsoever. Being able to understand Shakespeare, on at least some level, from first introduction was/is assumed to be normative and automatic in UK education.

    I used to know a college educated man with a IQ of 162 who could even read Chaucer in the original tongue.

    Don’t doubt it: it’s not that it’s unreadable, more that it requires mental effort and a higher minimal amount of background knowledge before you come to the text.

    I have had the occasion to read Shakespeare and have looked a KJV Bible but have been told what is shown as such is not real Jacobian English and Real English of that ballpark era is out of print.

    The KJV as in print now is an C18th revision aimed at making the text comprehensible to the man on the street of the time: the original C17th century translation made no concessions to those who lacked an academic background and is, as you say, out of print as far as mass publication is concerned. (I’m sure if one of us searched long enough we would find an original text KJV for sale from an academic publishing house for £££’s )

    Haven’t heard tell of Shakespeare being subject to such an revision (although there certainly are children’s retellings available: my sister had one of the history plays).

    Not that there are any surviving original Shakespeare manuscripts: his plays were compiled posthumously from partial rehearsal scripts by his friends and professional associates.

  • Statest16Statest16 Citizen, Mentor

    @Karamazov said:

    Not sure what you mean by real academics : at least at the time I was in secondary school the class was handed a set of copies of a play (Romeo & Juliet was the one in my school) and had to take turns in reading it out loud to the class, with breaks for class discussion as to what does this most recent passage mean: no prior lessons on Elizabethan language, culture or society whatsoever. Being able to understand Shakespeare, on at least some level, from first introduction was/is assumed to be normative and automatic in UK education.

    The KJV as in print now is an C18th revision aimed at making the text comprehensible to the man on the street of the time: the original C17th century translation made no concessions to those who lacked an academic background and is, as you say, out of print as far as mass publication is concerned. (I’m sure if one of us searched long enough we would find an original text KJV for sale from an academic publishing house for £££’s )

    Haven’t heard tell of Shakespeare being subject to such an revision (although there certainly are children’s retellings available: my sister had one of the history plays).

    Not that there are any surviving original Shakespeare manuscripts: his plays were compiled posthumously from partial rehearsal scripts by his friends and professional associates.

    Ok,so you had real academics,that's real academics.
    I went to special needs schools where teachers primary concern was behavior and some kids where still Sh#4^%ing there pants at 13.Academics were non existent for the most part.
    Even in public schools in America there is little academia outside wealthy schools districts with a big tax base.Rural school districts and poor inner city school districts are fuctionally literate at best on a good day.I lived in Vermont for 12 years(I used to be vermontsavant on WP)people there were barely literate.

    I remember when the non-binary identity got popular a few years back I heard people talk about there pro-nouns,I googled pro-noun,at age 38 I didn't know what a pro-noun was.I never learned to write in cursive,I can only print,but with computer dominance that no longer matters.

  • @Statest16 said:

    @Karamazov said:

    Not sure what you mean by real academics : at least at the time I was in secondary school the class was handed a set of copies of a play (Romeo & Juliet was the one in my school) and had to take turns in reading it out loud to the class, with breaks for class discussion as to what does this most recent passage mean: no prior lessons on Elizabethan language, culture or society whatsoever. Being able to understand Shakespeare, on at least some level, from first introduction was/is assumed to be normative and automatic in UK education.

    The KJV as in print now is an C18th revision aimed at making the text comprehensible to the man on the street of the time: the original C17th century translation made no concessions to those who lacked an academic background and is, as you say, out of print as far as mass publication is concerned. (I’m sure if one of us searched long enough we would find an original text KJV for sale from an academic publishing house for £££’s )

    Haven’t heard tell of Shakespeare being subject to such an revision (although there certainly are children’s retellings available: my sister had one of the history plays).

    Not that there are any surviving original Shakespeare manuscripts: his plays were compiled posthumously from partial rehearsal scripts by his friends and professional associates.

    Ok,so you had real academics,that's real academics.
    I went to special needs schools where teachers primary concern was behavior and some kids where still Sh#4^%ing there pants at 13.Academics were non existent for the most part.
    Even in public schools in America there is little academia outside wealthy schools districts with a big tax base.Rural school districts and poor inner city school districts are fuctionally literate at best on a good day.I lived in Vermont for 12 years(I used to be vermontsavant on WP)people there were barely literate.

    I remember when the non-binary identity got popular a few years back I heard people talk about there pro-nouns,I googled pro-noun,at age 38 I didn't know what a pro-noun was.I never learned to write in cursive,I can only print,but with computer dominance that no longer matters.

    Ah! Got what you mean 😃
    Yes: my school did have what at the time were referred to as “remedial” classes which didn’t include literature in their syllabus, and dropped the foreign language requirement in favour of additional English language tuition.
    They also replaced biological science education with basic gardening, although I’m not sure what was substituted for chemistry & physics.

    We do have the same problems with literacy and numeracy in the UK truth be told: although it’s too much of an active political propaganda contest for me to be sure as to the root causes of the issues.

    That is a big difference: I was writing cursive with a fountain pen from age nine, and expected to be neat and crisp without smudges or blots. (This was in a small rural school)
    Although again there were kids who were placed in a slower stream that focussed on being able to produce neat block capitals with a pencil.

    I suspect from what you’ve said and what I’ve experienced that UK schools integrate different ability levels into the same institution to a higher degree than US schools do... although whether that’s a good or a bad thing I don’t know.

    I do know that my late dyslexic uncle who was in school in the sixties was never taught to read or write, they just labelled him as mentally retarded and gave up. (He did later teach himself to do both in adulthood, I’ve no idea how he pulled it off but massively admirable: he was a very determined man)

    State Schooling in the UK was heavily reformed after his time in order to prevent the kind of apathetic approach to tuition he, and many others, encountered.

  • Statest16Statest16 Citizen, Mentor

    I understand what you mean about UK and poverty,UK is the halfway between between "Laizy Faire capitalist US and the highly socialist north western Europe.You guys have a lot of our problems.

    Yea,in the early 1980's in the US anyone who couldn't make it in public schools were thrown in sort of dumping ground schools.I'd imagine that UK might have had that to in those days.

    In the US schools are locally funded and administered with state and federal funding in poor districts but the funding isn't much.So quality of school varies locality to locality.Everyone agrees American public schools are profoundly broken,no disagreements on that.The liberals want more federal funding for public schools,the conservatives want vouchers for private and religious schools also known a parochial schools.

  • kraftiekortiekraftiekortie Citizen
    edited December 2020

    As far as Shakespeare is concerned: I was always on an academic track, and did well in academics. Not elite, by any means. I can understand Shakespeare on a few levels, but I need annotation and footnotes to understand it on a higher level. I have to re-read passages to fully understand them frequently.

    I understand the King James Version much better; the language, in general, is more straightforward with fewer subtleties.

    As for Chaucer: I can do well with a Modern English translation alongside the Middle English text. Or a Modern English translation with annotations. With Middle English text alone, I would have difficulty comprehending some of it, though I can usually get the general essence of what is written.

    Old English: foreign language.

    Shakespeare was “Bowdlerized” in the 18th century to “clean it up.”

  • KaramazovKaramazov Citizen
    edited December 2020

    @Statest16 said:
    I understand what you mean about UK and poverty,UK is the halfway between between "Laizy Faire capitalist US and the highly socialist north western Europe.You guys have a lot of our problems.

    More or less, although a lot of our public services have been “stealth privatised”: now run by private companies with a guaranteed level of income provided from taxation and state borrowing... yay! 🙄 (don’t get me started: I’ll derail the entire thread for page upon page)

    Yea,in the early 1980's in the US anyone who couldn't make it in public schools were thrown in sort of dumping ground schools.I'd imagine that UK might have had that to in those days.

    Think the 80’s was when we shifted from a system of “Grammar Schools” (academic, middle-class, well funded) vs “Secondary Modern Schools” (vocational, working-class, funding? What funding?) to “Comprehensive Schools” (both simultaneously) and “Community Colleges” (I went to one of these: same as a Comprehensives, but with the addition of evening classes for adults who’d been failed by the Secondary Moderns).
    So I got both Shakespeare and Metalwork classes! 😃

    In the US schools are locally funded and administered with state and federal funding in poor districts but the funding isn't much.So quality of school varies locality to locality.Everyone agrees American public schools are profoundly broken,no disagreements on that.The liberals want more federal funding for public schools,the conservatives want vouchers for private and religious schools also known a parochial schools.

    Not too dissimilar to funding mechanisms of UK schools from the mid-eighties to the early 2010s.
    Central Government (The Exchequer > Department of Education) > LEA (local educational area: sort of contiguous with county council, but a separate body) > Board of School Governors > School teaching staff.

    Since then “Free Academies” have been introduced: for profit private schools funded by the state which proclaim higher levels of parental choice and higher standards... whilst giving the government direct political control over the curriculum (an innovation in UK education), and producing no consistent evidence of higher standards at all.
    The Comprehensives and Community Colleges have been defunded to pay for the Academies: many of which are selective intake and cater more to middle-class fads than to practical education of either an academic or vocational nature.

    (Couldn’t leave it alone: sorry! 🙄 )

    @kraftiekortie just had a look at the online 1623 first folio Romeo & Juliet: that’s the text we had in UK schools in the nineties!
    And yes: just working out how to pronounce the words was an issue for many kids in my class.

  • Statest16Statest16 Citizen, Mentor

    @Karamazov said:

    @Statest16 said:
    I understand what you mean about UK and poverty,UK is the halfway between between "Laizy Faire capitalist US and the highly socialist north western Europe.You guys have a lot of our problems.

    More or less, although a lot of our public services have been “stealth privatised”: now run by private companies with a guaranteed level of income provided from taxation and state borrowing... yay! 🙄 (don’t get me started: I’ll derail the entire thread for page upon page)

    Yea,in the early 1980's in the US anyone who couldn't make it in public schools were thrown in sort of dumping ground schools.I'd imagine that UK might have had that to in those days.

    Think the 80’s was when we shifted from a system of “Grammar Schools” (academic, middle-class, well funded) vs “Secondary Modern Schools” (vocational, working-class, funding? What funding?) to “Comprehensive Schools” (both simultaneously) and “Community Colleges” (I went to one of these: same as a Comprehensives, but with the addition of evening classes for adults who’d been failed by the Secondary Moderns).
    So I got both Shakespeare and Metalwork classes! 😃

    In the US schools are locally funded and administered with state and federal funding in poor districts but the funding isn't much.So quality of school varies locality to locality.Everyone agrees American public schools are profoundly broken,no disagreements on that.The liberals want more federal funding for public schools,the conservatives want vouchers for private and religious schools also known a parochial schools.

    Not too dissimilar to funding mechanisms of UK schools from the mid-eighties to the early 2010s.
    Central Government (The Exchequer > Department of Education) > LEA (local educational area: sort of contiguous with county council, but a separate body) > Board of School Governors > School teaching staff.

    Since then “Free Academies” have been introduced: for profit private schools funded by the state which proclaim higher levels of parental choice and higher standards... whilst giving the government direct political control over the curriculum (an innovation in UK education), and producing no consistent evidence of higher standards at all.
    The Comprehensives and Community Colleges have been defunded to pay for the Academies: many of which are selective intake and cater more to middle-class fads than to practical education of either an academic or vocational nature.

    (Couldn’t leave it alone: sorry! 🙄 )

    @kraftiekortie just had a look at the online 1623 first folio Romeo & Juliet: that’s the text we had in UK schools in the nineties!
    And yes: just working out how to pronounce the words was an issue for many kids in my class.

    My city's school system has both a traditional high school with math,English,history ect.... but also a vocational school for students who want a trade like auto mechanic ex.

  • KaramazovKaramazov Citizen
    edited December 2020

    Sounds similar to the academic/vocational split in UK education from the 1940s to the 1980s, ours was abandoned due to the failure of many of the vocational schools to effectively educate: principally due to long-running funding & staffing issues which were in turn derived from a strong cultural tendency in the British elite of the era to favour “hard humanities” (Latin, Greek, history, classic literature etc) and “theoretical academics” (abstract physics, pure mathematics etc) over more vocational courses of study (applied mathematics, mechanical engineering etc) and “soft humanities” (philosophy, sociology, modern literature etc).

    The fact we had a commercial chemist who was the daughter of a shopkeeper as PM at the time the change was made may not be irrelevant, and as far as I can make out that elite cultural prejudice has been at least partially eroded since then.

    Can still come across odd remnants of the educational attitudes of that time however...

    several years ago was having a conversation about grammar with an elderly lady who had attended an all-girls grammar school, and she expressed distaste for split infinitives: I pointed out that in English the infinitive forms of verbs are always composed of two words eg: to go and as such invite split forms such as to boldly go by their very structure, the meaning of which is not corrupted by that splitting; unlike Latin where the infinitive forms of verbs are generally single words which do not lend themselves to being split without destroying
    comprehensibility.
    Her response was “but Latin is grammar”.

    Peculiar, no?

    Why would you try to use the formal style of one language to police the colloquial and popular usages of another language: one which moreover doesn’t even come from the same sub-family?

    (Nicely steered back to topic there me 😜 )

  • Statest16Statest16 Citizen, Mentor

    @Karamazov said:
    Sounds similar to the academic/vocational split in UK education from the 1940s to the 1980s, ours was abandoned due to the failure of many of the vocational schools to effectively educate: principally due to long-running funding & staffing issues which were in turn derived from a strong cultural tendency in the British elite of the era to favour “hard humanities” (Latin, Greek, history, classic literature etc) and “theoretical academics” (abstract physics, pure mathematics etc) over more vocational courses of study (applied mathematics, mechanical engineering etc) and “soft humanities” (philosophy, sociology, modern literature etc).

    The fact we had a commercial chemist who was the daughter of a shopkeeper as PM at the time the change was made may not be irrelevant, and as far as I can make out that elite cultural prejudice has been at least partially eroded since then.

    Can still come across odd remnants of the educational attitudes of that time however...

    several years ago was having a conversation about grammar with an elderly lady who had attended an all-girls grammar school, and she expressed distaste for split infinitives: I pointed out that in English the infinitive forms of verbs are always composed of two words eg: to go and as such invite split forms such as to boldly go by their very structure, the meaning of which is not corrupted by that splitting; unlike Latin where the infinitive forms of verbs are generally single words which do not lend themselves to being split without destroying
    comprehensibility.
    Her response was “but Latin is grammar”.

    Peculiar, no?

    Why would you try to use the formal style of one language to police the colloquial and popular usages of another language: one which moreover doesn’t even come from the same sub-family?

    (Nicely steered back to topic there me 😜 )

    Not every,actually very few US school districts have a voc school.McCann technical is the only voc high school in the county and takes students from all over the county not just my city

  • We used to have many vocational high schools in NYC. We still have some----but they have become the "dumping grounds" for students unable to "make it" academically. It's a pity, really. Postsecondary vocational-type schools tend to be expensive----and there's much competition out there for "trades."

    I don't have any "vocational aptitude"---but it would be much better for those who do, and especially if they are not academically-inclined, for the US to revamp their vocational education framework along the lines of what's in the British Isles area.

    The UK/Scottish/Irish vocational education system is much better than ours. I like that you get "qualifications" without having to join a union. I sense that it's also easier to get "journeyman" work with the "qualifications."

  • Yes: we do have a network of Technical Colleges for students aged 16+ aimed at further developing vocational skills for which the basics have been instilled in Comprehensive Schools.
    (At the school I attended we had woodworking, electronics, metalworking, enamelling, textile crafts, basic cookery, basic computer programming and technical drawing as mandatory lessons alongside literature, history, geography, philosophy/theology, sciences, fine art, drama and a basic overview of classics)

    There’s also been a big push by our current government to get more students to choose vocational careers and extra funding for the Technical Colleges and associated apprenticeship schemes. (One of their policies I have no issues with whatsoever).

    Historically a lot of this sort of education was provided by unions, but they were stripped of their control of technical education in the 1940s and their control of industrial hiring in the 1980s: the system now being open to anyone of any background and provided wholly by the state.
    (Oddly enough: one of the original demands of the Luddite movement back in the early C19th)

  • Trade unions are still big in some areas of the US.

    There's good and bad in unions. I'm a member of a union, and I'm a civil servant with a lot of rights. But some unions, especially trade unions, are corrupt, and you have to "know somebody" to get into them, and get journeyman work.

    My wife is a member of a union, and she gets a pension from that union. And she had her nursing training paid for by the union. So unions have been good for her. They are good in health care and in retail/supermarkets, etc. But not so good for the "trades."

  • kraftiekortiekraftiekortie Citizen
    edited December 2020

    Yep....I "veered off the topic"----but this is inevitable when we have a bunch of intelligent people having a discussion.

    I feel like a dunce because I had difficulty interpreting Shakespeare sometimes when I was in school/college. The History Plays were the easiest; something like King Lear was the most difficult. Taming of the Shrew taught me a lot. I've read the First Folio, compiled circa 1620; the English in it is more comprehensible, in general, than what is found in the original scripts written circa 1600. I would guess this is a "standardization" process.

    After the Restoration, there is a dramatic increase in (my) ability to interpret text. Milton, to me, is much easier than Shakespeare (even though Milton is an undertaking). Edmund Spenser seems to have deliberately wrote in more "archaic" English than what was extant at the time. By the time you get to the "coffeehouse" era, the English had become fully "modern." I can read things like the "Tatler" with few or no difficulties.

    My temperament leans towards the works of the Enlightenment.

  • Yes indeed: Unions are a necessary part of the institutional framework of a free society.
    They just need a legal basis which encourages the genuine good they do by protecting their member’s rights, and discourages gatekeeping & c.

    (Or bad-attitude attempts to undermine leaders of political parties who, whilst being on their side, disagree with their specific opinions: particularly after they’ve spent several years denying blatant antisemitism because it suited their power aggrandising agenda, Mr Len McCluskey of Unite)

  • kraftiekortiekraftiekortie Citizen
    edited December 2020

    The Unions were what saved many during the Depression. This was the era of massive battles between Management and Unions.

    Personally, I hope unions are here to stay. I believe they equalize the playing field, in general.

  • Hehe 😏

    Personally I think the sheer level of repression people around world have had to go through, or are still going through, in order to have the legal right to unionise is strong circumstantial proof that they do indeed have that equalising/stabilising function.

  • Absolutely!

  • @kraftiekortie said:
    Yep....I "veered off the topic"----but this is inevitable when we have a bunch of intelligent people having a discussion.

    And I totally missed this post of yours and continued off topic! 🤣
    Inevitable as you say: an interesting side discussion comes up, and thus a temporary refocus occurs.

    I feel like a dunce because I had difficulty interpreting Shakespeare sometimes when I was in school/college. The History Plays were the easiest; something like King Lear was the most difficult. Taming of the Shrew taught me a lot. I've read the First Folio, compiled circa 1620; the English in it is more comprehensible, in general, than what is found in the original scripts written circa 1600. I would guess this is a "standardization" process.

    Yes: Folio Shakespeare does require conscious thought, and the occasional looking up when a reference is inscrutable from the perspective of a contemporary world view. Haven’t looked at any reprints of the 1608 copies: they’re meant to have been partially reproduced from actors memories and much patchiest in quality than the later Folio, and rushed out by “copyright pirates” to use the modern phrase... which might explain why they’re harder to understand.

    After the Restoration, there is a dramatic increase in (my) ability to interpret text. Milton, to me, is much easier than Shakespeare (even though Milton is an undertaking). Edmund Spenser seems to have deliberately wrote in more "archaic" English than what was extant at the time. By the time you get to the "coffeehouse" era, the English had become fully "modern." I can read things like the "Tatler" with few or no difficulties.

    Same for me: Hobbes and Milton didn’t present me with any language comprehension difficulties (although following their arguments does require putting the book down and thinking carefully at times). Haven’t yet read any Spenser...
    Enlightenment era: definitely fully modern, I didn’t find either Adam Smith or Edmund Burke a difficult read (chapters on metallic standard currencies aside: that’s pretty alien to me). David Hume I did find difficult,: but he’s on an altogether higher level of cognitive abstraction in his major works: so that’s to be expected.

    My temperament leans towards the works of the Enlightenment.

    Generally I’d agree: although there are certain early modern works I adore.
    Erasmus’ Praise of Folly was a hilarious revelation to me: although he was Dutch (did work in England as tutor to the future Henry VIII though).

  • kraftiekortiekraftiekortie Citizen
    edited December 2020

    Erasmus and St. Thomas More had a great and piquant correspondence. I got really into Thomas More for a while; even had a screen name which paid tribute to him. This was at the Dawn of the Internet.

    Why I haven't seen "A Man for All Seasons," is anyone's guess.....

    Spenser, as you probably know, wrote a tribute to the "Virgin Queen"--the "Faerie Queene." Written circa 1550-1560, it reads more like something from 1450, though without the absurdly elaborate spellings of the 1450 era, as epitomized by the writing of William Caxton (the guy who bought the printing press to England).

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