He was very fond of his pet words, some of which might seem oddly useless to some readers UNLESS scansion is considered. Specifically, "doth," "did," and "most" crop up with astounding frequency when one would least expect them. Consider (all the lines below are from "MacBeth," but the same thing happens in all his plays):

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem/To have thee crown'd withal.

Perchance even there where I did find my doubts.

As I did stand my watch upon the hill,

Most sacrilegious murder hath broke open

And question this most bloody piece of work,

Of the most pious Edward with such grace

No; they were well at peace when I did leave 'em.

And so forth. My question is:

"Is it just me," or did Shaky put in all those doths and dids and mosts just to make those lines scan?

  • As a side note I would recommend Orwell's essay in riposte to Tolstoy's pamphlet criticising Shakespeare.
    – Jascol
    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:00
  • 1
    @Jascol: I've read both (Tolstoy's nonsense and Orwell's refutation). Tolstoy's piece is hilarious (his essay on Wagner's even funnier, and the one on science is all inadvertent comedy with the occasional brilliant observation; the phraseology is quite something, too. "They're trying to figure out how much the sun weighs"). Orwell's is so-so; his error was taking Tolstoy's brilliant idiocy seriously. Why would anyone do that? I have no idea.
    – Ricky
    Oct 22, 2015 at 21:26

1 Answer 1


I'd say that's a fair assessment. They're really just intensifiers: "do" + infinitive for a verb, and "most" for an adjective. So they won't change the meaning very much. And they're one syllable each, can be either stressed or unstressed, and can be inserted into a sentence with remarkable flexibility.

However, the same is true for a lot of vocabulary and syntax choices in Shakespeare. That's one reason for some of the more outlandish sentence structures: when writing in meter, everything has to be arranged around the scansion. So the same could be said for most of his stylistic decisions.

  • Thank you. That's what I thought. Most of the time they're intensifiers that don't really intensify. Now, if it isn't too much trouble, could you name one or two of those other stylistic decisions? Do you have any "favorites"?
    – Ricky
    Oct 22, 2015 at 5:03
  • @Ricky I find the variation between -èd and -'d for the past tense marker very interesting, since it's something we've almost completely lost now. Similarly with initial contractions like 'tis instead of it's for "it is".
    – Draconis
    Oct 22, 2015 at 6:22
  • Thanks. Absolutely! ... And he varied them every which way to make the lines scan. ... Maybe we should bring it back. ... 'Tis is kind of cute. "Tis some visiter (orig. spelling), I muttered."
    – Ricky
    Oct 22, 2015 at 6:29

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