"Divides one thing entire to many objects; Like perspectives, which rightly gazed upon show nothing but confusion..." - William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Richard the Second

I read plenty of Shakespeare in high school, especially in drama. I have a lot of difficulty making sense of things he says, such as the above.

Is Shakespeare proper English? Would this have been clear, easily understood material back in his day? In other words, have all the changes in the English language over time made the material difficult to comprehend? Is the material subjective poetry?

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    This is peeving disguised as a question – simchona Oct 24 '11 at 13:55
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    If you downvote, please say why. I am new to this site and want the question answered. The only way I can improve the question is by having feedback from experts. – P.Brian.Mackey Oct 24 '11 at 13:55
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    @P.Brian: I voted to close as "off topic". I agree with simchona that you're not really asking anything. You're really just complaining that you don't understand Shakespeare very well, and you don't see why others think he's a great writer. – FumbleFingers Oct 24 '11 at 14:24
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    Updated question with several questions that can be answered. – P.Brian.Mackey Oct 24 '11 at 14:26
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    If you think, as I do, that no question is bad which draws good answers, then this one must be good. – Jason Orendorff Oct 24 '11 at 14:56

Shakespeare wrote highly inventive, poetic English of his time. Some of what he wrote uses words, grammatical forms and syntax that are no longer current, and can be difficult for modern readers or hearers to understand. Some of what he wrote uses poetic phrases or syntax which might have been difficult even for contemporaries to understand fully.

There are plenty of editions of Shakespeare which explicate or translate his text, some better than others.

In order to answer whether it is "proper" English or not, you will have to give us a comprehensive characterisation of what you regard as "proper".

But I think I can safely say that the quotation above (which I assume is attached to a section on objects) is inserted for amusement or artistic delight, and has no connection with the text apart from the word "object" and the suggestion that a multiplicity of them can be confusing.

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As a general rule of thumb, we consider Shakespeare to be the first well-known writer of "Modern English". That doesn't mean language hasn't changed in several hundred years since he his time. It means that (poetic imagery and cultural references aside) we can mostly understand him - unlike Chaucer, which most people can't understand without a lot of help.

On the specifics, Divides one thing entire to many objects simply means "Takes something which is meaningfully identifiable as a single entity, and divides it into constituent parts".

As an example, a motorcar can be divided into gearing cogs, carburettor needles, tyre valves, etc. Shakespeare obviously wasn't thinking of a motorcar, but it certainly illustrates what he goes on to say about perspectives.

Unless you're a mechanic, the pile of components that make up a motorcar may represent nothing but confusion, in the same way that you may end up with no useful understanding of a situation if you try to grasp it from multiple perspectives. Similar to the difficulties we face looking at an example of "multiple perspectives" in Picasso's Cubist paintings.

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    "motorcar"? "tyre"? Is this proper English? :) – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 24 '11 at 15:11
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    @Mr. Shiny: Substitute auto and tire if you like - it doesn't affect my point. I'm just sticking up for Brits and centenarians who use dated terminology! :) – FumbleFingers Oct 24 '11 at 15:16
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    Actually I was trying to make the point that "proper" English is subjective anyway. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 24 '11 at 16:10
  • Well I'm sure you'll agree there must be many usages in Shakespeare which we would not consider "proper" today. OP's first quoted sentence, for example. But most reasonably assiduous students should still be able to understand what he meant there. Which I think is often not the case with Chaucer. Of course, Chaucer just missed out on the widespread adoption of printing, and standardisation of spelling, which might have made all the difference. – FumbleFingers Oct 24 '11 at 16:22
  • @ Mr S and N. If by proper English you mean Standard English - whether British, American, or any other - then most of it isn't subjective at all. – Barrie England Oct 24 '11 at 16:40

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