New Scholarship from Old Renaissance Dictionaries: Editorial Preface
Ian Lancashire
University of Toronto
Michael Best
University of Victoria

Lancashire, Ian, and Michael Best. "New Scholarship from Old Renaissance Dictionaries: Editorial Preface." Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 1 (1997): 1.1-6 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-01/si-01preface.html>.

  1. Most of these essays grew out of Ian Lancashire's graduate course on Shakespeare's language offered at the University of Toronto in 1995-96. This course set itself the task of reading Shakespeare's plays from a Early Modern English perspective, drawing on English instructional and reference books published in the Renaissance period. One of these resources was the Early Modern English Dictionaries Database (EMEDD), a computer corpus of English lexicons printed between 1530 to 1657.

  2. Early dictionaries have a special importance in the study of English language and literature. They hold primary testimony about English by people who then spoke and wrote the language and document words and syntax that have since changed, sometimes in ways that cannot easily be defined. These lexicons also shed light on a view of language that has itself been lost since the late 17th century. Although no period dictionary of Early Modern English exists, the EMEDD offers a glimpse of what it will eventually offer students of the period.

  3. The essays in this special issue of EMLS use the EMEDD for different purposes. Some researchers address language-related topics. Davidson tackles a neglected linguistic topic, Shakespeare's use of archaisms; and Hagen examines the meaning of one word in this period, "tragedy." Buick studies the vocabulary of the second volume of the Elizabethan homilies, an influence on Shakespeare's plays. Other contributors (Catt, Lancashire, Winson) use the EMEDD to re-interpret specific texts: Love's Labours Lost, The Tempest, Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cressida. Although these papers also discuss Renaissance attitudes to language, one essay, by Warren, focuses exclusively on what two Renaissance lexicographers (John Bullokar, Minsheu) thought they were doing.

  4. Most essays were first delivered at sessions on English Corpora jointly sponsored by the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) and the Consortium for Computers in the Humanities/Consortium pour ordinateurs en sciences humaines (COCH/COSH) at the Learned Societies conference at Brock University on May 24-25, 1996. All essays have been substantially revised since their delivery.

  5. Lexicographical research has a history at Toronto. It began in the 1960s when the late Angus Cameron, an English professor at New College, started the project now known as the Dictionary of Old English, which is based on a computer textbase of every word surviving from the Anglo-Saxon period. The EDICTA project, a development of the past 20 years at Toronto, shows the work of T. R. Wooldridge, Brian Merrilees, and Ian Lancashire in research on medieval and early modern dictionaries written in England and France.

  6. The editors would like to thank Raymond Siemens, editor of Early Modern Literary Studies, for an opportunity to publish this research.

M.B. / I.L.
March 1997

© 1997, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).