Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

“The Queen, my lord, is dead.”


Shakespeare obviously holds a high rank in the literary world.

Shakespeare and Macbeth

Image Courtesy of ralu home ~ http://www.freeimages.com/profile/ralu

Even if Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare but some other person, that person holds high rank.

Something else obvious—that person’s writing can bore many people and has inspired many more…

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I’ve been holding on to an article since April and today seemed like the right time to share it.

It appeared in Poynter.

It was written by Roy Peter Clark, writer, editor, writing instructor, and senior scholar and vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

The article’s title is The Shakespeare sentence that changed my writing – and can change yours .

As usual, I’ll only excerpt a bit of it to encourage you to take the link and explore it fully…

After a warm introduction to the play that quote appears in—Macbeth—and his personal involvement with it, Clark introduces his fascination with Shakespeare’s sentence:

“This obsession began with the realization that Shakespeare did not have to write the sentence that way. He had at least two, if not three other choices:

• The Queen is dead, my lord.
• My lord, the Queen is dead.
• And if the messenger had been Yoda of Star Wars fame, Macbeth may have had to deal with: ‘Dead the Queen is, my lord.’

“As you examine those three alternatives, recognize that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with them. All four versions stand up to the scrutiny of Standard English, even though Yoda’s version seems awkward and eccentric. In all four sentences, the six words are the same. They just roll out in a different order.”

Then, he gives his reasons for why “The Queen, my lord, is dead.” is the best:

  • A momentous announcement, the death of a queen, is made public in six quick words.
  • The sentence has a clear beginning, middle, and ending – praise be to commas!
  • The subject of the sentence – “The Queen” – appears immediately. Any sentence with such a beginning carries important news.
  • The least significant element in the sentence “my lord” appears in the middle, the position of least emphasis.
  • The slight delay between subject and verb holds a nanosecond of suspense.
  • The most important phrase, “is dead,” appears at the end, the point of greatest emphasis.

Again, I encourage you to go read the full article, since it’s much more than a lesson in the construction of sentences…

Plus, if you do read the whole thing, you’ll discover what Clark says about William Faulkner :-)
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