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Putting in a Good Word for Shakespeare's Wordcraft Hot

Ron Severdia
Written by Ron Severdia     May 25, 2007    
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Putting in a Good Word for Shakespeare's Wordcraft
  • by Scott Kaiser
  • Publisher: Limelight Editions
  • Published in 2007
  • 5

"A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

Even if you're not a fan of Shakespeare, you've probably have heard that line before. You may also have already heard some variant of "I must be cruel to be kind" or "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!". But chances are, you might not have known these phrases came from the bard himself.

Those are just some of the many textual aspects Scott Kaiser highlights in hew newly published book, Shakespeare's Wordcraft. Kaiser, head of voice & speech at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, has taken text analysis to a new level by breaking down every possible permutation of word structure in the canon. This is not a book you read from beginning to end, but one you can pick up and start anywhere, stopping anywhere you please (if you can!).

The book starts off simple by showing the usage of word prefixes/suffixes and examples where they are used throughout the works. Kaiser's writing style is straightforward and simple enough for the basic reader (especially in the prologue) without boring the advanced reader. Very quickly the book gets into more complex constructions and patterns like word substitutions, complex omissions, and word order vs. disorder. Kaiser often relates the terms and examples to modern day references, which help bring the reader into the world of the plays and make Shakespeare more accessible in a way that Kenneth Branagh does with his film adaptations.

Yet, when one looks at the book as a whole and the vast array of examples (thousands!), one wonders how Kaiser compiled them all (this book must have been a long time in the making!). An insider tidbit: this reviewer first got wind of it in the summer of 2006 from actor Barry Kraft, who is mentioned in the acknowledgments and surely had a hand in many areas, not the least of which was the clever "Swearing" section (Kraft has published a book about Shakespearean insults). One can only surmise that Kaiser's many years as a teacher, vocal coach, and playwright have contributed to a breadth of knowledge and experience beyond measure.

While the book is likely meant mainly for theatre professionals, students & teachers will definitely find great benefit in this elegant presentation of Kaiser's extensive analysis. Kaiser's book is a remarkable achievement and, most importantly, hits at the very heart of showing how carefully Shakespeare crafted every word his plays. Hamlet surely got it right with the line "Words, words, words..." and so did Shakespeare's Wordcraft.

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