The Riddle of Shakespeare is how did he learn so many words to write his plays?
Let’s let William Shakespeare answer that question for himself.
When last we heard from the original Will.i.am they were all in the Mermaids Tavern in London having their usual share of the fresh ale. John had asked William how he became so schooled with the limited formal education.
William finished his answer the next month and it began like this…
My formal education ended when I turned 15. I was not able to attend places like Oxford as I was not of blue blood. So I turned to my family to work and provide assistance to the homestead and family. I was lucky he would say because one of his teachers at his school took a shine to him.
He got me a teaching job at his school to teach the younger children Latin. With people converting from Catholic to Protestant, they were not using the Latin language and would not be able to learn at the school as all classes were being taught in Latin except for a few that were taught in Greek. He also spent time teaching me the new modern English. How it was structured and many of the words being used.
It was a big deal as this teacher was a grad of Oxford. He helped me learn the basics of teaching. We also had a common fondness of the theater. He liked the theater but could not act as it frightened him to be on stage. So he turned to playwriting. This is what he showed William.
He showed him the structure, how the play was written, the flow, the words and how to make up your own words.
Remember he would say, the Chaucer English was only 200 years ago and the new modern English we were learning was very new and still not being used a great deal outside of London. There were no formal books to collect and define the words so it was very easy to make up words that were needed to complete a sentence.
Because the Catholic church was using Latin, they would use some of those words and the structure of Latin for tenses, adverbs, pronouns, etc. Then when we went to Italy during the closing of the Theaters in 1592 and 93 we learned more about the structure of the plays and how they built their stories. We also learned how to make more words while we were learning the Italian language.
When the theaters opened again in 1594, we were able to begin using our knowledge we had gained to write many more plays, with a lot of them based on what we learned in Italy. He would also say that the theaters and the plays in Italy were very beautiful and that their theaters had been in use since the Roman times.
So he concluded, I hope this helps you understand where I come from. I have limited formal education but I have taught myself and have had the good fortune to get help from other sources. My friends here in our company have been the biggest asset for my learning. Also my good friend and tutor in Stratford and then in Italy where I learned a whole lot in 12 short months about language structure and how plays originated and how they are written.
Many of their plays were written a very long time ago and many have been written recently. But the structure is still the same and is very similar to what we do here. So it just helped me do my job better and that is to provide good plays for the company and our fine actors.
So there you have it. William Shakespeare was very busy during those periods they called the black years, where it is not known what he did. He was spending time formulating his abilities and improving on his language. Not only during those black period but also during his time in London as a lot of that is not documented.
He continued to learn the new modern English language through his circle of friends. Even his colleague and sometimes adversary Ben Johnson. He was a very proficient debater and he would challenge William almost every time they met. William used those occasions to learn more from a man more schooled then himself.