Vol. 5 (2016): The Many Lives of William Shakespeare: Biography, Authorship and Collaboration
Part Two - Case Studies

Shakespeare and Warwickshire Dialect

Rosalind Barber
Laboratorio editoriale OA / Dip. LILSI

Published 2016-03-09


  • Authorship,
  • Biography,
  • Dialect,
  • Shakespeare

How to Cite

Barber, R. (2016). Shakespeare and Warwickshire Dialect. Journal of Early Modern Studies, 5, 91–118. https://doi.org/10.13128/JEMS-2279-7149-18084


The article investigates whether Shakespeare used Warwickshire, Cotswold or Midlands dialect, focusing on the sources of recent claims by Bate, Kathman and Wood, most of which derive from early dialect dictionaries compiled by 18th and 19th century antiquarians. It determines that all of these claims – frequently used as a defence against the Shakespeare authorship question – fall into four categories: those based on errors of fact, well-known or widely-used words, poetic inventions, and those derived through circular reasoning. Two problems are identified. Firstly, the source texts on which these dialect claims rest were written two- to three-hundred years after the plays, by which time language use would not only have evolved, but would have been influenced by Shakespeare. Secondly, the continuing academic taboo surrounding the authorship question has meant that these claims, though easily refuted by searching the Oxford English Dictionary and the digitized texts of EEBO, have gone unchallenged in academia. It demonstrates that querying the validity of arguments derived from an assumed biography can – without in any way disproving that the man from Stratford wrote the body of works we call ‘Shakespeare’ – lead to a better understanding of the way Shakespeare actually used language, and the meanings he intended.