University of Toronto
Seminar: Theater History on the Web
Shakespeare Association of America
Word-entries from monolingual hard-word glossaries and bilingual dictionaries in Renaissance England give first-hand testimony from Shakespeare's contemporaries about how he and others at that time used theatrical terms: for this reason these entries contribute to theatre history. A few record performance (e.g., Thomas Blount's "Salmacidan"), but most give insight into the working language and thought of theatre in the Early Modern English period. Educated in the Stratford-upon-Avon grammar school, Shakespeare would have known many Latin terms in this database from his teachers Simon Hunt and Thomas Jenkins because the Stratford grammar school had a copy of Thomas Cooper's Latin-English lexicon of 1565, Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae, which draws on Sir Thomas Elyot's first such dictionary for Henry VIII in 1538 and contributes to many dictionaries published later.
This terminological database extracts entries for 369 headwords from 18 early dictionaries and glossaries from the late fifteenth century to 1656. The Early Modern English Dictionaries Database (EMEDD) gives a search interface to thirteen of these texts. They include the main monolingual English hard-word glossaries, by Richard Mulcaster (1582), Edmund Coote (1596), Robert Cawdrey (1604), John Bullokar (1616), Henry Cockeram (1623), and Thomas Blount (1656). The EMEDD also gives access to English words in the explanations for and translations of headwords in seven bilingual dictionaries: those in French-English by John Palsgrave (1530) and Randle Cotgrave (1611), in Latin-English by Sir Thomas Elyot (1538) and Thomas Thomas (1587), in Italian-English by William Thomas (1550) and John Florio (1598), and in Spanish-English by John Minsheu (1599). Finally, I have extracted word-entries from five other texts: British Library Additional MS 37075 (a Latin-English glossary dated about 1475-1500), Thomas Cooper's Thesaurus (1565), A Short Introduction to the Grammarby William Lily and John Colet (1567), Peter Levin's Maniculus Vocabulorum (1570), and Richard Rowland's list of ancient English words in A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence (1605).
The Early Modern English theatre terminology is an HTML hypertext with three types of pages: introductory, headword or word-entry, and index. There are three indexes: to word-entry headwords alphabetically, to word-entry headwords by dictionary, and to words found in the explanations of the headwords. With an EMEDD search engine, why do we need indexes? There are two reasons. The EMEDD Web facility does not yet give access to several large dictionaries (Elyot, Florio, and Cotgrave). Even when it does, no search engine can prepare a researcher for the subject it indexes. Readers must know what terms exist before being able to search for them. Only plain text indexes give a clear understanding of the extent and character of Renaissance English terms for theatrical activity.
This introduction describes the Early Modern English source materials, discusses the form of the terminology, and links to the three indexes. Two of the three detail the headwords of the word-entry, and one the entry's post-lemmatic explanation. Each headword listed in the two word-entry indexes links to its own headword page: this gives (chronologically) its entries as they appear in different lexicons. Most headwords belong to non-English languages because almost all dictionaries of the period were bilingual. (The first large English dictionary was Thomas Blount's Glossographia in 1656.) The index to word-entry headwords by dictionary arranges the 369 entries under the title of their source, listed chronologically. The third index, for explanatory terms in word entries, gives a lemmatized (normalized) alphabetical list of occurrences of English and foreign-language words in the explanations (what we might call the definitions). I have not indexed the mostly English explanatory terms exhaustively, but over 1780 citations (that is, link), appear under 454 lemma-headings.
The basic record unit of the Early Modern English terminology is the headword file. For example, the file scena.html contains five word-entries for the headword "scena," the third of which is from Thomas Thomas' Latin-English dictionary (1587).
Scena, ae, f. g. A bough, a pavilion, a hall, the frunt of the theater, the place where players make them readie, being trimmed with hangings, out of which they enter vpon the stage. a place couered with boughes or trees growing one within another, and giuing a shadowe: also a comedy or tragedie: a place wherin one doth shew and set forth himselfe to the world: a summe and argument. also an age, Fest.Although deep in a very large Latin dictionary, this entry is rich with information about English usage. For that reason the Early Modern English vocabulary has an explanatory-word index. This lists, alphabetically, links to this and other word-entries with words such as "bough," "pavilion," "hall," "front," "theatre," "place," "players," "hangings," "stage," "comedy," "tragedy," "show," "set forth," "sum," and "argument."
Why should we pay attention to early dictionaries when we have the OED? There are several reasons why we should. First, lexicographers who spoke the English of Shakespeare's time are our best authority for what its words meant. The OED selects many citations from these lexicons, but it omits most, although they are the period's primary reference works on language. The lexicons also imply a somewhat strange, unmodern notion of word meaning. They do not define words (in the EME period, only things were thought to be definable); rather, words functioned only to denote things in the world, and to correspond to or be equated with other verbal tokens in different languages, periods, or registers. At this time, word-entries used the post-lemmatic explanation to translate the lemma rather than to explain it. Lexicons gave alternative signs. Where English lacked an appropriate equivalent term, a lexicographer could resort to describing the thing itself. Lacking a first-hand knowledge of the Renaissance world -- that is, of which things a given word denoted -- readers today will find the informal explanations of these lexicographers helpful. Even when the post-lemmatic part of a word-entry gives only equivalent terms, the patterns in which they collocate help assess a period consensus on what a word signified. This hypertext, then, facilitates the study of how words repeatedly collocate with other words.
By making the idea of translation central in language use and training, early dictionaries, like Renaissance humanistic schoolbooks, also call into question whether English existed quite as distinctly as it appears to be today. Renaissance speakers behaved as if vernacular languages shared more or less the same grammar and as if all one needed -- to be able to use a language other than English -- was a knowledge of the vocabulary of that foreign tongue. Only Latin had grammar textbooks, then called syntaxes; and much Latin syntax was thought suitable anyway in describing educated English. Even English-only speakers thought about language in terms of translation. Monolingual glossaries, prompted by the controversy about inkhorn terms, explicitly translated hard words to plain words; and the mainstay of poetry, metaphor, known as translatio, converted one (existing, authoritative) set of word-thing pointers to another parallel set. That is, tropes translated from a literal denotation to a figurative one.
Characters in the plays of Shakespeare's England from time to time use French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish words on stage. Theatre terminology also was multilingual, partly because grammar schools routinely taught Latin and Greek, and partly because Shakespeare and his contemporaries read and drew from works written originally in other European languages. They imitated Plautus, Terence, and Seneca. Researchers still do not have a lexicon of Renaissance theatrical terms, outside what can be gleaned from the OED, which is firmly monolingual. Alan C. Dessen's analysis does not use lexicons of the period. Its pan-European vocabulary, which had a history of two centuries, is largely unfamiliar in today's post-Latin culture. Thus this database covers primary theatre-history materials not treated by the Malone Society, REED, and records volumes for court theatre, and much expands the coverage of Early Modern English lexicon word-entries found in the OED.
Even familiar terms like "comedy" appear strange. The eleven word-entries for its two (English and Latin) forms offer, first, John Palsgrave in 1530, to whom the word denoted a Christmas play (i.e., a play about the good news of Christ's birth?). By 1565 Thomas Cooper has a classical model in mind when he represents it as dealing with common "vices," but Levin uses the phrase "vice player" in 1570 to translate Latin "sannio," taken since Sir Thomas Elyot's dictionary (1538) to be the dizard or fool, as we might expect, but Levin also equates "vice player" with the general Latin word for actor, "histrio." By the end of the century Edmund Coote (1596), and then Robert Cawdrey (1604), term a comedy a "stage play", clearly with the professional playhouses in mind, but John Florio (1598), Randle Cotgrave (1611) and others introduce the term "interlude" as a synonym, although the Tudor moral interlude has long since disappeared. Some of these usages reflect well-understood changes in theatre history over a century, but others show that Shakespeare's contemporaries may have seen comedies as the main heir to early drama, scriptural and moral, merry and solemn. Because the terms "tragedy" and interlude do not collocate in this way, the term "interlude" may unexpectedly turn out to be a marker that distinguishes semantic fields for different dramatic genres.
There are also welcome surprises, discovering something long forgotten. The OED tells us that the origin of the actor's term "cue" is not known, but two entries by Henry Cockeram (1623) and Thomas Blount (1656) solve that problem. Their Englished Latin equivalent for "cue" is "antiloque," a term that the OED unwisely omits. The word "cue" comes from the tail syllable of that inkhorn term, and indeed, the OED itself gives the first meaning of "cue" to be the name of the letter "q." Why then does an actor enter on his "cue"? He does so because his cue is his antiloquy, the speech immediately preceding, or coming before ("antecedent" to) his own. The word for "soliloquy" has survived, but Shakespeare's contemporaries had too frequent a need for "antiloquy" not to naturalize it. Again, Shakespeare's theatrical vocabulary is multilingual. It does a disservice to his period to separate French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish terms too strictly from their English equivalents.
Because this terminological database is a public Web site, anyone with an interest in theatre history can explore a large slice of the surviving Renaissance word-entries in theatrical vocabulary. By using the EMEDD, the OED, and other historical sources, other terms can be added to this terminology -- for example, words used as names for London theatres of the period (the Globe, the Curtain, and the Fortune), words for costumes and properties, character names, and so forth. Entries from other lexicons can be extracted (for instance, the Catholicon, the Promptorium, and Rider). . R. C. Alton exhaustively lists the dictionaries, which are also the subject of books by Starnes and Noyes, and Stein. Jürgen Schäfer's two-volume Early Modern English Lexicography (Oxford, 1989) lists most glossaries and indexes their contents too. As well, reference works on law (e.g., by John Cowell) and on similes (e.g., by Robert Cawdrey), Tudor grammar books, and poetry, plays, and treatises of the time have a rich trove of language.
As more EME dictionaries become available in electronic form -- and only by computer search can English words be readily located in bilingual dictionaries organized by foreign-language headwords -- any hypertext can grow. Cross-references to entries in the OED, and explanations of theatre-history terms in other books and manuscripts of the period, can be made. The terminology becomes a dictionary if the hypertext is supplied with one more level of files: an editor's own definition pages for each term, linked to from the term-list on the main page and linking to the term-pages. Anyone asked to analyze such terms, using contemporary lexicons, will learn valuable things about the differences between Early Modern and Present-Day English and can potentially contribute something original to our knowledge of the period.
Permission is hereby given to educators and students to use this copyrighted site freely for instructional and research purposes. As the EMEDD and other on-line materials for the Renaissance period grow, terminologies of this kind can be developed for many subjects. Developers of commercial software should seek permission from me to use this site or any materials from it by writing
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