Shakespeare’s Language by Frank Kermode

What makes Shakespeare the greatest dramatist/poet, period? This masterpiece of literary criticism and elucidation will tell you what. It is, in itself, a marvellous achievement and a distillation of a lifetime of thinking.

The finest tragedies written in English were all composed in the first decade of the seventeenth century, and it is generally accepted that the best ones were Shakespeare’s. Their language is often difficult, and it must have been hard even for contemporaries to understand. How did this language develop? How did it happen that Shakespeare’s audience could appreciate Hamlet at the beginning of the decade and Coriolanus near the end of it? Frank Kermode ( and argues that something extraordinary started to happen to Shakespeare’s language at a date close to 1600, and he sets out to explore the nature and consequences of the dynamic transformation that followed. For it is in the magnificent, suggestive power of the poetic language itself that audiences have always found meaning and value. The originality of Kermode’s argument, the elegance and humour of his prose, and the intelligence of his discussion make this a landmark in Shakespearean studies. Own it.

Listen to Professor Sir Frank Kermode on the Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ episode (45 minutes) on the subject of Shakespeare’s work. He is joined by Michael Bogdanov, theatre, television, opera and film director and a founder member of the English Shakespeare Company and Germaine Greer, Professor of English and Comparative Studies, Warwick University.

336 pages in Penguin paperback edition

ISBN 978-0140285925

Frank Kermode

Scroll to Top