Reference > Cambridge History > Renascence and Reformation > The Language from Chaucer to Shakespeare > Elizabethan and modern English
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XX. The Language from Chaucer to Shakespeare.

§ 13. Elizabethan and modern English.


But Elizabethan English, alone among the earlier stages of our language, still plays a part in modern intellectual life. Thanks to the English Bible, the prayer-book and Shakespeare, it has never become really obsolete. Its diction and its idioms are still familiar, endeared and consecrated by sacred association. It yet remains the inspiration of our noblest styles, for beyond its concrete strength, its picturesque simplicity and its forceful directness, English expression cannot go. And so, in moments of exaltation the old phrases are recalled, untainted by any mingling in the market place, and, with their rich suggestiveness, they heighten the passion or beauty which a more explicit idiom would destroy. Modern English is the fitting medium of an age which leaves little unexplained; while Elizabethan English stands for an age too hasty to analyse what it felt. The one has the virtues of maturity, a logic, uncompromising and clear: the other, a vigour and a felicity, the saving graces of youth.   64

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