Early modern grammar: ‘choice’ (from Adamson)


Literary authors (like human beings) tend to exploit the linguistic variation available to them

§       not only for rhythm or rhyme!


Ex: neuter pronoun, possessive form:

§       from his (OE; Shakespeare’s unmarked form) through of it, thereof, it

§       to its later in the 17th century


1. “when Horatio describes his encounter with the Ghost”



Hamlet                 Did you not speak to it?

Horatio:                                                               My lord, I did,

                             But answer made it none. Yet once methought

                             It lifted up it head and did address

                             Itself to motion like as it would speak.




2. (5.1.218-9) “where Hamlet, seeing a funeral, infers that”


The cor[p]s they follow did with desp’rate hand

Fordo it own life. ‘Twas of some estate


3. “in this couplet from the Fool in King Lear (Quarto 1.4.206-7)”


The hedgesparrow fed the cuckoo so long

That it had it head bit off by it young.



4. “Heaven grant us its peace, but not the King of Hungaries.”