Flowery Elizabethan English
Thor: You have no idea what you are dealing with.
Uh, Shakespeare in the park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?
The immense popularity of William Shakespeare
and the King James version of The Bible
has made the style in which those works were written very popular. For this reason, Flowery Elizabethan English is often the first thing that writers turn to when they want to show that a character is extremely
old-fashioned — generally more so than an ordinary human could be. Their speech will be sprinkled with terms like "prithee" or "forsooth", and use obsolete pronouns like "thee" or "thou".
This is often used for immortals or near-immortals
, like elves
, or for characters with a very strong connection to the era (perhaps a hyper-obsessive scholar). It can be used in alternate worlds and fantasy
works where there never was an Elizabethan England. May also be used by time travelers
. Works written during or set in the Elizabethan era do not qualify, however, as the purpose there is quite different
This even occurs in translated works, where it may signal
a similar level of old-fashionedness in the original, or, in a language like Japanese, a formal or traditional style of speech that has no direct analogue in English.
In extreme cases, the characters may use Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter
as well. When done badly, perhaps for humor
, may shade into Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe
. For characters who speak like they came from the much-later Victorian era, see Antiquated Linguistics
. Talk Like a Pirate
is similar, but quite distinct.
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Anime and Manga
- Pandora Hearts has Rufus Barma, the Duke of Barma, who speaks in an antiquated form of Japanese in the original work, and in Early Modern English in the localized translations. Though there are some exceptions, the use of grammar conventions are for the most part consistent with the rules of Early Modern English, and Barma's vocabulary consists of many old fashioned words and turns of phrases, not merely grammar conventions.
- In Ranma ½, Tatewaki "Blue Thunder" Kuno is fond of speaking this way, particularly in the English dub.
- In Sekirei, Tsukiumi talks like this, most likely as a way of translating her formal Japanese. When she says "Have at thee, villain!", though, it's hard not to imagine her being Thor's Distaff Counterpart.
- The English dub of Inuyasha has the elderly priestess talk this way, which is fair enough as she's from the Warring States Era. However, the writers apparently noticed that this was annoying, so only and specifically the priestess does it - every other character just speaks normal English, and Inuyasha himself is outright slangy.
- Thor, and all of the other Asgardians of the Marvel Universe, spoke until recently in Ren Faire-esque English. There have been several nods to Shakespeare over the years, including many quotes, mis-quotes, and even the character Volstagg the Voluminous, a parody of William Shakespeare's Falstaff (from Henry IV parts 1 and 2). (The most recent relaunch of the character has him and his fellow Asgardians speaking formally but not archaically, and they keep their own font.)
- Parodied in a comedy version of Alpha Flight, in which the Native American character, Yukon Jack, a loincloth-clad savage from the Canadian north woods whose tribe has had very limited contact with the outside world, speaks fluent Shakespearian all the time.
- Much like Thor, Hercules and the Olympians from Marvel generally talked like this, too. This is averted and subverted at different times in the current run by Greg Pak and Fred van Lente. Hercules talks in modern English. When he goes to the Underworld at one point, his former human half talks in Shakespearean English. Hercules gets mad and asks why he talks like that when they're from ancient Greece.
- In Empowered, the Caged Demonwolf combines this with Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness and Purple Prose (also, thesaurus abuse) for some truly remarkable dialogue.
- In the Belgariad, Arendish folks talk like this, particularly the Mimbrates...though the Asturians deliberately change accents out of their contempt for the Mimbrates. One (non-Arendish) character trying to sound intelligent speaks like this for a few pages, before being explicitly told that she sounds ridiculous. Thoroughly and hilariously lampshaded in The Malloreon when Poledra remarks that if they stick around the Arends long enough, everyone will be doing it. For his part, Eddings not only does the style grammatically, but (in The Rivan Codex) is highly critical of those who try but get it wrong.
- Appears several times in The Elenium. All the speaking dead, whether they died centuries before or a few days before. A man playing a ressurected dead hero speaks this way, plagiarizing an old play. Also Bhelliom speaks this way.
- In the Retief short story, "Ballots and Bandits", the natives of the planet Oberon all speak this way, for no apparent reason beyond Rule of Funny. (The name of the planet is a reference to the character from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.)
- In Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell, most of the angels speak modern English, but Beelzebub speaks in a flowery Elizabethan flavor due to being injured by chaos:
"Rumors do fly about the land, milord. These have little truth in them. Whoso they light on taketh the worst o' the lie and sends that forth; whoso that lights on them doth likewise. 'Tis a most potent distillation of falsehood; milord, it will fall like the dew and make every angel drunk unawares."
- In Roger Zelazny's novel, Creatures of Light and Darkness, a fantasy set far in the future, the immortal Prince Who Was A Thousand tends towards this style of speech, especially when conversing with his bodiless love, Nephytha. Other immortals and gods speak normal modern English, for the most part.
- In The Dresden Files a number of immortals, particularly The Sidhe, have a tendency to use "thee" and "thou" in casual speech. It also becomes a plot point in Grave Peril. Harry realises that the Nightmare is not an ancient spirit, because it misuses ancient pronouns (it's thine heart, not thy heart.
- J. R. R. Tolkien was fond of writing in an archaic style like that of the King James Bible.
- This trope is employed as a Translation Convention in Captain Corelli's Mandolin to indicate what Ancient Greek, spoken by an English spy, sounds like to modern Greek speakers.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne—who lived and wrote in America during the Victorian Era—did this in most of his works (particularly The Scarlet Letter, which is at least somewhat justified as it takes place in the 17th century). However, he also used an archaic style in works set in contemporary times, which made character's dialogue seem wildly anachronistic.
- In Empire from the Ashes, Jiltanith learned her English during the "War of the Roses" period. She sticks to it rather strongly.
- In Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse, Zoe Nightshade (leader of the Hunters of Artemis) speaks this way. When she tries to speak in a more modern way, it comes out awkwardly. Hilarity Ensues.
- In Foundation and Empire, Magnifico's speech is rendered similar to this (stated to be the accent of the galactic center). Foundation and Earth features a Lost Colony on Alpha Centauri speaking an even more archaic dialect (stated to be "Classical Galactic").
- Tough Magic has an outtake in the back of one of the books, with a scene from the book redone in a rather over-the-top parody of the Shakesperean style,
- In H. Rider Haggard's She, when the protagonists first meet the followers of she-who-must-be-obeyed, they speak a language described as "some dialect into which Arabic entered very largely." The English translation of this dialect is rendered in an Elizabethan style, e.g. "art thou awake, stranger?"
Live Action TV
- On Star Trek: The Original Series, the aged Vulcan matriarch T'Pau talks this way—presumably to show that, even by Vulcan standards, she's very old.
- Averted for the most part in series two of Blackadder, which is actually set in Elizabethan England. The trope is, however, parodied at one point, with Lord Percy Percy saying things like "beshrew me" and "tush" and Blackadder immediately pointing out that only "stupid actors say 'beshrew me'."
Blackadder: And don't say "tush" either. It's only a short step from "tush" to "hey nonny nonny" and then I'm afraid I shall have to call the police.
- The Greeks and Trojans in "The Myth Makers", a William Hartnell Doctor Who serial, drop in and out of this kind of speech depending on how dramatic they're feeling.
- In the Bones episode "The Archaeologist in the Cocoon". The team solves a 25,000 year old murder involving both modern humans and Neanderthal. They are recreating the scene, and Dr. Hodgins is playing the part of a Neanderthal male:
Hodgins: Hark, I bring thee meat which we thus shall feast upon, and...
- On the Pokebattles parody site, both Green Valkyrie and John Mobius in Pokebattles Red Version talk like this (John was given a translator, for the audience and Lemony Narrator's benefit). That's probably why they fall in Love at First Sight.
- In the Strong Bad Email "love poem", Strong Bad advises his fan to use this sort of language in his love poems, because "women love it when you get all Elizabethan."
- Brother Andrew (1928 - ) spoke like this when he was attending a missionary school in Great Britain some time after World War II because he learned English by using a Dutch-English Dictionary and The King James Bible (first printed in 1611). In his autobiography God's Smuggler, he showed the effect this had on his English by recalling an incident where he once asked for butter saying "Thus sayeth the neighbour of Andrew, that thou wouldst be pleased to pass the butter." Oh, and he had a very thick Dutch accent that made it hard for him to pronounce the "th" digraph.
- Some churches, for the humor value, denote No Parking areas with signs reading "Thou shalt not park."