"A World of Figures:" Language and Character in 'Henry IV Part I'

A.P. Riemer


In Dr Johnson's opinion, the dialogue of Shakespeare's plays exhibits "so much ease and simplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction." The legend of Shakespeare's "naturalness" has persisted so strongly since Johnson's time that it may seem impertinent even now to enquire into the means by which this illusion of spontaneity in speech and lifelikeness in character is sustained. But a Shakespeare play is a carefully fashioned linguistic structure, and Henry IV Part I, with all its abundant life, remains a "fiction" in which the semblance of "ease and simplicity" owes as much to "art" as to "nature."

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