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The Reception of the Shakespearean canon

William Shakespeare (Baptized April 26, 1564 April 23, 1616) was an English poet and
playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's
preeminent dramatist. His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long
narrative poems, and several shorter poems.
Shakespeare's early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of
sophistication by the end of the sixteenth century. In his following phase he wrote mainly
tragedies, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, Othello. The plays are often regarded
as the summit of Shakespeare's art and among the greatest tragedies ever written. In 1623, two
of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic
works that included all but two of the plays now recognized as Shakespeare's.
Shakespeare's canon has achieved a unique standing in Western literature, amounting to a
humanistic scripture. His insight in human character and motivation and his luminous,
boundary-defying diction have influenced writers for centuries. Some of the more notable
authors and poets so influenced are Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Charles Dickens,
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Herman Melville, and William Faulkner. According to Harold
Bloom, Shakespeare "has been universally judged to be a more adequate representer of the
universe of fact than anyone else, before or since."
Shakespeare's writings have achieved a stature transcending literature. They have, says Harry
Levin, "been virtually canonized as humanistic scriptures, the tested residue of pragmatic
wisdom, a general collection of quotable texts and usable examples." Although Shakespeare
was immersed in a religiously saturated culture and themes of sin, prejudice, jealousy,
conscience, mercy, guilt, temptation, forgiveness, and the afterlife appear throughout his
writings, the playwright's religious sensibilities remains notoriously problematic. In part this
may owe to the political perils of professing avowedly Catholic or other doctrinally suspect
sympathies in the Protestant reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.
According to the dictionary a canon is the works of a particular author or artist that are
recognized as genuine: for example the Shakespeares canon
Doubts about the identity of William Shakespeare began to appear in print in the 19th century
and found its voice in 1857 with publication of Delia Bacons The Philosophy of the Plays of
Shakespeare Unfolded, with a foreword by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Other artists and
intellectuals who doubted the identity of William Shakespeare in the 19th century include
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Henry James.
In 1920, J. Thomas Looney published Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of
Oxford, introducing the hypothesis that a nobleman in Queen Elizabeths Court was the real
author of the Shakespeare canon. The Oxfordian case has since gained adherents as varied as
Sigmund Freud, theater professionals Orson Welles, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Michael York, as
well as US Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia.
The case for Oxford's authorship is based primarily on numerous similarities between

Oxfords biography and events in Shakespeare's plays, sonnets and longer poems; parallels of
language, idiom, and thought between Oxford's letters and the Shakespearean canon; and
underlined passages in Oxford's Geneva Bible that may correspond to quotations in
Since that time, books expanding upon the evidence presented in Shakespeare Identified have
appeared, including Charlton Ogburn Jrs The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984, 1992)
and Mark Andersons Shakespeare by Another Name (2005). A history of the Shakespeare
Authorship Issue, from the 19th century to the present day, is available in Warren Hopes The
Shakespeare Controversy (1992, 2009).
The size of Shakespeares vocabulary was a direct reflection of what he wrote about which
was virtually everything. For the 400th anniversary of the playwrights death, David Crystal
explains why counting the number of words in the Shakespearean canon can never be an exact
science. Nevertheless, we can still identify the semantic field of which Shakespeare made
more use than any other: religious language.
There is a striking numerical parallel between Shakespeare and the King James Bible of 1611:
both canons contain roughly 880,000 words. The roughly is important, because it isnt at all
obvious what counts as the canon in Shakespeares case and what counts as a word. There
is ongoing debate about which plays he had a hand in, collaborative writing being so normal
in those days. If you include King Edward III and Sir Thomas More, for instance, your total is
going to be appreciably greater than if you do not. And then, once youve decided on which
works to include, you have to worry about all the linguistic issues. What is a word?
You have to decide what to do about proper names. These are usually excluded in wordcounting exercises, as they relate more to encyclopedic knowledge than to linguistic intuition.
Just because I know the words Paris and Marseilles, it doesnt mean that I can speak French.
On the other hand, some proper names do have more general significance, such as Eden,
which the dying John of Gaunt uses to describe England (Richard II, 2.1.42), so presumably
they should be included in the total.
You have to decide whether to include onomatopoeic words, as when Edgar, disguised as
Poor Tom, shouts Do de do de. Sese! (a hunting cry, King Lear, 3.6.73). And what about
humorous forms, such as malapropisms? When Dogberry says he has comprehended two
aspicious persons, aspicious is a variant of auspicious and a mistake for suspicious (Much
Ado About Nothing, 3.5.43).
Then, finally, you have to decide whether to include foreign words. Shakespeare uses over
600 Latin, French, Spanish and Italian words. When characters are definitely speaking a
foreign language, the words might reasonably be excluded from the English total, but it isnt
always clear when something is foreign, as when the gravedigger says argal (= Latin ergo,
therefore [Hamlet, 5.1.19]) or Polonius says videlicet (= that is to say [Hamlet, 2.1.61]).
Depending on how we answer these questions, our Shakespearean total will vary by a
thousand or so. But most of those who have written on this subject conclude that Shakespeare
used around 20,000 different words. That was a very large vocabulary for those days. If we
compare the King James Bible, we find (excluding proper names) only some 6,000 different
words. This of course was a text which by its nature was thematically highly restricted, and it

was a translation that was consciously conservative in character. The size of Shakespeares
vocabulary is larger because it was a direct reflection of what he wrote about which was
virtually everything. It is the difference between people, situations and subject-matter that
generates different kinds of vocabulary.
If you write only historical plays, your vocabulary is going to be focused on the kind of things
that kings and dukes talk about. Conversely, if you write only street-comedy, a very different
kind of vocabulary is going to appear. If you write love stories, that will motivate a further
lexical domain. If you write about the most profound kinds of mental conflict, you will
employ words that go well beyond the everyday.
If you write in all of these domains, and more, inevitably you will end up with a vocabulary
total that makes you stand out from your contemporaries. Although many other Elizabethan
writers were great word-inventors, none match Shakespeare for lexical diversity.
Shakespeare never speaks in his own voice. Even in the Sonnets, which we might imagine to
be a direct insight into a writers thought, we find uncertainty. Who actually is the person
writing these sonnets, and to whom? Arguments over the persona continue, in both the poems
and the plays.
Altogether, Shakespeare wrote 39 plays if you include the recently attributed Double
Falsehood. After many years of research, Arden Shakespeare published this play under the
name William Shakespeare in 2010
It will take time for Double Falsehood to be fully incorporated and accepted into the
Shakespeare canon, which means that it is generally accepted that Shakespeare wrote 38 plays
in total. The total number of plays is periodically revised and often disputed.
Shakespeares works have been translated in many languages and they were often translated
in a softer way or in a way in which they were made more attracted for the public. In
receipting his work the public should be aware of the fact that Shakespeare wrote mainly for
the actors, not for the public. He was a creator of entertainment and his characters unveil
characters of his time, of his everyday life. They embody real people of his time; they spoke
as the people from the social strata they came from. In the history of receipting Shakespeares
followers often tried to adapt or censor the vocabulary of his work. This happened not only in
the Romanian translations but it is universally known.
The Romanian translations of his works were mainly influenced during the communist era by
our countrys ideology. This happened not only at the level of vocabulary, but also at the level
of presenting some of the characters in order to suit the need to of the communist party to
praise the socialist man. The vocabulary used by the characters that came from the simple
layers of the society was modified and made softer by giving up the vulgar or obscene
language. This fact is revised by the latest translations of the plays. Leon Levitchi was one of
the first translators who made a step forward in Romania regarding the way in which the
Bards works should be receipted. He had the courage to get rid of the politics introduced in
the plays by some early translators and he revised translations done by Barbu Solacolu and N.
Agintescu-Amza. The censor was done at the political, social and religious level. Present
translators should look over to correctly interpret the original work to be truly faithful to it.

We should bear in our minds that Shakespeare was a self-conscious free-lancer, an entertainer
who wanted to write for the public, so he had to make his plays appealing. That is why we can
discuss about the economic side of his plays and critics often say that he had to make his
plays more commercial to attract a bigger audience. No matter the era sometimes the
entertainment goes hand in hand with obscenity and Shakespeare was one of the authors who
could not take into account this.
The new versions will be true to the spirit of the original dramas and their popular appeal,
while giving authors an exciting opportunity to reinvent these seminal works of English
Shakespeare's plays have, in the past, been turned into everything from musicals to films, with
Romeo and Juliet becoming West Side Story, and The Tempest morphing into Return to the
Forbidden Planet. Tom Stoppard riffed on Hamlet to write his acclaimed play Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern are Dead, Terry Pratchett played with A Midsummer Night's Dream for his
Discworld novel Lords and Ladies, and Jane Smiley brought King Lear into the modern day
in her Pulitzer-winning novel A Thousand Acres.
Shakespeare never invented a plot line and worked from what preoccupied him that is why
he goes on being able to become so many things on stage. The Shakespeare purists miss the
point about his exuberant ragbag of borrowings thrown into the alchemical furnace of his
mind and lifted out transformed. He sums up the creative process, which is not concerned
with originality of source but originality of re-making.