Archaism in Poetry, Drama & Pop-Culture

Archaism refers to the usage of words, phrases or styles that are considered to be outdated or no longer common in contemporary language. Writers often employ archaism to evoke a sense of an earlier time or to lend a certain gravity or formality to their prose or poetry.

Common Examples of Archaism

Here are some examples of archaisms used in sentences:

  1. Cometh thou with me to the market? The archaic second person pronoun ‘thou’ is used here.
  2. The blacksmith doth fine work with metal. The verb ‘doth’ is an archaic form of “does.”
  3. The path windeth betwixt the trees. The word ‘betwixt’ means between.
  4. Prithee, wherefore callest thou at this hour? The archaic term ‘wherefore’ is used to mean why.
  5. Methinks the storm shall pass by noon. The phrase ‘methinks’ is an archaic way of saying ‘it seems to me.’
  6. The knave hath stolen my coin purse! The word ‘knave’ is an archaic term meaning a dishonest man.
  7. Pray tell, couldst thou help me carry these boxes? The phrase ‘pray tell’ is a polite archaic way of asking a favor, as is ‘couldst thou’ meaning ‘could you.’
  8. T’was a cold winter night when the fire in the hearth went out. The archaic contraction ’twas’ means ‘it was’.
  9. Perchance I shall finish my tasks before supper. The word ‘perchance’ is an archaic way of saying ‘perhaps’ or ‘maybe’.
  10. My friend called hither three days ago but I was not at home. The adverb ‘hither’ is an old-fashioned way of saying ‘to or toward this place’.

Archaism Examples in Drama

Example#1

“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare

“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

The term ‘soft’ is used here as an interjection asking for attention or to pause for a moment. The use of ‘thou’ is also an archaic second person singular pronoun. Additionally, the line ‘yonder window breaks’ contains archaic grammar with the noun ‘window’ not matching the third person singular verb ‘breaks’.

Example#2

“I don’t play accurately—any one can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression.”

The use of the archaic adverb ‘accurately’ to mean ‘correctly’ or ‘precisely’ was even outdated at the time Wilde wrote the play in 1895. Using archaisms adds an old-fashioned eccentric quality to Algernon’s dialogue.

Example#3

“Hamlet” by Shakespeare

“I did love you once. Indeed, you made me believe so…I loved you not. Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.”

Shakespeare intentionally used more antiquated language in Hamlet’s dialogue to reinforce the moody, brooding and philosophical qualities of his character. Hamlet thinks deeply. His way of speaking uses old-style verb endings and spellings. These make him sound different than the other characters. His language seems slightly out of place for his times. The archaic tone adds to the impression of Hamlet as an introspective, morose, poetic protagonist stranded in a world he no longer understands.

Archaism in Poetry

Example#1

“The Echoing Green” by William Blake

“The Sun does arise,
And make happy the skies,
The merry bells ring,
To welcome the Spring.
The sky-lark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around,
To the bells’ cheerful sound.”

The archaic verbs ‘doth’ and ‘maketh’ are used here instead of the modern ‘does’ and ‘makes’. There is also the archaic term ‘skies’ meaning ‘sky’. Blake intentionally used language, which evokes the style of the 16th and 17th century to craft a rustic and innocent feeling of classic pastoral life. The ‘doth’ and ‘maketh’ verb forms add quaintness matching the poem’s bucolic themes. So while the grammar is antiquated for Blake’s time, that is precisely the effect he wanted to achieve – transporting readers to an idyllic English countryside of long ago through subtle linguistic choices.

Example#2

“Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.”

The terms ‘ye’, ‘endear’d’, and ‘ditties’ are all linguistic archaisms. ‘Ye’ is an antiquated second person plural pronoun, ‘endear’d’ is an outdated variation of the past participle ‘endeared’ and ‘ditties’ meaning ‘songs’ had become poetic and quaint by Keats’ time. The scatterings of ‘ye’, ‘thy’ and other archaisms transport readers back to the time the engraved urn was supposedly crafted. This allows Keats to collapse time to romantically link his 19th century observations with the ancient culture and artwork he is celebrating. The antiquated language conveys timelessness.

Example#3

“The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.”

The term ‘imbowers’ meaning ‘shelters’ or ‘encloses’ was already antiquated in Tennyson’s time. Using this verb form adds a medieval flavor matching the poem’s mystical Arthurian theme.

Example#4

“Sonnet 12” by William Shakespeare

“When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls,
all silvered o’er with white;”

Here the archaic words and phrases have been deliberately used by Shakespeare to describe the passage of time and aging evokes a poetic and formal style. These words give historical context. It exemplifies how archaisms can be used effectively in poetry for stylistic and tonal impact.

Archaism Examples in Pop-Culture

Example#1

“The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R Tolkien

“For the Lord of the Galadhrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings.”

The terms ‘Galadhrim’ meaning ‘people of the trees’, ‘Middle-earth’ and ‘Elves’ are archaisms .Tolkien has used these words from Anglo-Saxon language. The diction evokes an antiquated and medieval flavor suited to the epic story. The eloquent language separates the immortal Elves from mortal beings. This aligns with his goal of creating an intricate fictional mythology emulating the lost legends of Northern Europe.

Example#2

“A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin

“A flagon of ale, m’lord? T’will warm thy bones on such a chill morn.”

The terms ‘m’lord’, ‘thy’ and ’twill’ are intentional archaisms used in the Northern dialect to give it an antiquated flair. The antiquated lexical and grammatical touches give the speech an aged and medieval flavor that resonates with the epic world Martin built.

Related Terms with Archaism

Some literary devices that are similar to or related to the use of archaisms:

Allusion – Writers sometimes make hidden or indirect references to old, obscure, historical texts, events, people or places. They depend on the reader recognizing these references to add extra meaning. Using these old allusions connects to traditional and classical knowledge.

Archaic Diction – The intentional usage of antiquated, obsolete, aged or old-fashioned words, phrases and modes of expression to evoke the feeling and setting of past eras. This device mirrors the linguistic aspect of using archaisms.

Circumlocution – Sometimes called periphrasis. This refers to the use of an unnecessarily large number of words, often involving archaic terms. They convey an idea that could be expressed more briefly and simply. Circumlocution using archaisms mirrors outdated linguistic formalities.

Euphemism – This device replaces an inoffensive, gentle or unclear old word for one that seems harsh, direct or unpleasant today. It is like how archaisms swap modern words for ancient ones.

Inversion – It changes the conventional placement and order of words in a sentence. It often harken back to older verse and forms of literature where certain syntactic arrangements were more common historically than today. Inversion mirrors obsolete grammatical styles that archaisms evoke.

Archaism in poetry and drama
Archaism in poetry and drama

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