Not so Modern English.
The secondary curriculum is under review and I see that Shakespeare has been duly trotted out (Shakespeare and algebra are a must for all pupils, schools told). I was just wondering how much longer it’s going to take before Shakespeare is dropped as part of the English curriculum because someone dares to acknowledge that his English is largely unintelligible to speakers of present-day English (now and in the future). How many school children actually understand what Billy the Bard wrote? How many have to use study guides to understand the plays and sonnets?
I like to think that I have a good, but far from thorough historical vocabulary. I have a certain awareness that words from 16th and 17th centuries don’t have their modern senses. In some cases, the word still has the same sense it had in Middle English; in others, the word might’ve entered the language from Latin and would, not surprisingly, still have its Latin sense.
When I watch a play by Shakespeare, even I find that large chunks of the dialogue are unintelligible. It’s not because it’s verse, but because the English of the late 16th and early 17th centuries is too different from the modern idiom. I remember reading the Rape of Lucrece many years ago and having to rely on the notes to understand most of it; and I’m certain my knowledge of non-modern vocabulary was much better then than it is now.