Shakespeare and Eye Spy, Oh My

Early Modern English:

This is a weird category a lot of people have problems with. The stuff in here is from the Rennaisance, so it’s not what most of you might consider “modern”. Writers like Shakespeare fit in this category, and if you were ever forced to sit through an awkward read aloud of “The Taming of The Shrew” in an English class in school then you will remember that very few English speakers can actually read the stuff.

At this point in English, though, the letters look a lot like what we use today, and many of the spellings are similar to our current spelling system. Additionally the Renaissance saw the creation of the first universities where students of upper and middle classes were taught standardized spelling and grammatical forms of the language and used the newly invented dictionaries mass produced via the new printing press to bring greater literacy to the masses- at least the Middle Class masses.

The Game

This is the third entry in this series of “Eye Spy” posts. In previous posts the rules were that you’d gain points if you could decipher the letters, more points if you could pick out whole words, and even more points if you could figure out entire sentences. All of that is over now. This is a form of Modern English, after all, so the fonts are really similar to what we’d see today. The challenge today is figuring out what the old spellings and old fashioned vocabulary actually means.



Here we have an early compilation of Shakespeare’s plays. Keep in mind that very few pages of the actual scripts survive, because they were used and reused by the actors on the stage, so my understanding is that mostly all we have left are early anthologies of his work which were made a little after the originals. I am not actually a Shakespeare scholar, however, so referencing one of them might be a good idea if you want a better history of his work.

I didn’t just include his work because Shakespeare is one of the most famous Renaissance writer. He’s important because he was at the beginning of a new wave of English authors who actually wrote in their own language- English- instead of using a fancy language only a few rich people and scholars could understand. (Cough, Latin, cough. But actually sometimes Ancient Greek was used for this as well.)

I can make out every word on this page, of course, but the challenge in this edition of the series is not really to spot individual words, but rather to be able to understand what the writing actually means.

It’s clear that tragedie=tragedy, and scena=scene, and finis=finish. But it can be a little hard to understand the whole content. I recommend that if you want to give the challenge on this one a full go, you check out an annotated edition of one of the plays, and that should give a translation side by side the original text so you can check if your guesses at translation are accurate or not.

Challenge Round



This is “The Prince,” by Machiavelli. Can you figure out what is written here?

Don’t worry if you can’t, this one was a trick entry! “The Prince” was originally written in Italian, so it’s not really a test of your ability to decipher English. Fooled you!

Imperfectum A Diabolo


This one is a historical text, probably vaguely medical. It’s written by Philippi Theophrast (what a mouthful that name is too!) It’s written in Latin and I can’t find out anything about it because I don’t speak or read Latin at all. Bonus points if you can figure out anything about this one. I definitely made this a challenge round.


We have had quite a series of posts this month about the History of The English Language. If you want to read the entire series you can visit the English Language tab posted in the top of this post’s page, or go to the first post here. I’ve been posting them every Wednesday this month and enjoying it a lot.

How about you? Do you like this series? Can you figure out the meaning of the challenge round texts?


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I'm a professional author. I love travel, forests, city life, and being creative. I love to gather hobbies, none of which I am any good at, and I like to spend as much time as possible with people.

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