The main lexical references for Shakespeare scholars in the twentieth century were first Alexander Schmidt's two-volume Shakespeare Lexicon
(1874) and later C. T. Onions' Shakespeare Glossary,
which appeared in 1911 and was revised by Onions in 1919. A further revision in 1986, by Robert D. Eagleson, kept Onions in print but failed, to some extent, to satisfy scholars. The new Shakespeare's Words
seems likely to fill the void created by the superannuated Onions.
Using the New Penguin Shakespeare as their text, the editors, linguist David Crystal and his actor son Ben Crystal, first collected all of the "problem" words flagged by the Penguin editors and then scoured the plays and sonnets for additional "difficult" words--especially words that are no longer current or that have developed a different sense since Shakespeare's time. After a few further additions, their entries totaled 21,263 under 13,626 headwords.
Rather than defining a word by listing a single near synonym, the Crystals decided that a system called lexical triangulation would better reflect the complexity of Shakespeare's language. Most entries have three glosses, each providing a slightly different slant. For example, englut is glossed as "swallow up, gulp down, devour." Each entry includes part of speech, an illustrative quotation (with text and context identified), and selected references to other occurrences. Sidebars contain brief tutorials on address forms, money, weapons, and more.
Readers newly acquainted with Shakespeare will benefit greatly by browsing through the Crystals' list of 100 frequently encountered words, which are accompanied by more illustrative quotations than are provided elsewhere. Other useful features are a chronology, plot synopses, diagrams illustrating interactions of characters, and 16 appendixes providing brief definitions for historical people, places, foreign terms, and other vocabulary not found in the A-Z section.
This is a most ambitious work that will be of immense value to student and scholar alike, a worthy successor to the landmark volumes that preceded it. Recommended for large public and academic libraries. RBB
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