The standard literary language in England offered considerable variety of choice to its user, more than in later ages. It was above all the grammarians and lexicographers and schoolmasters of the eighteenth century, with their passion for regulation and propriety, who narrowed the choices available; on the grounds of "reason" or classical precedent they rejected such things as double negatives and split infinitives, and many of their prescriptions are influential even today. In Shakespeare's day there was more freedom of choice: often a writer could choose from two constructions where now there is only one; he felt free to coin new words, and to develop the meanings of existing ones; the whole linguistic situation encouraged an adventurous and creative attitude to language.
14 February 2007
Freedom of Choice
From "The English Language in the Age of Shakespeare" by Charles Barber, from The New Pelican Guide to English Literature, vol. 2: