What is the Thesaurus?
The Thesaurus is the opposite of the Glossary. When consulting the Glossary, you know the word and you want to find out what it means. When consulting the Thesaurus, you know the meaning, and you want to find out which Shakespearean words express it.
This is a Thesaurus of all the senses of the English content words we put into our Glossary. So it doesn't include:
- grammatical words (such as of, with, thou and whereat)
- exclamations and calls (such as holla and sessa)
- words that characters get wrong (malapropisms)
- words in Latin, French, or other languages.
It is a guide only to the words in the Shakespeare's Words Glossary and not an account of the way these words might be used elsewhere in the canon or in Early Modern English as a whole. For example, we include Shakespeare’s use of mother to mean 'womanish qualities', but not in its ordinary sense of 'parent'. And with a concept, such as 'colour', we include only those items where the meaning differs in some way from Modern English (such as brown, dun, paly).
The Thesaurus contains 58,363 items, grouped into 31,358 entries.
How to use the Thesaurus
When you look up a word in the Glossary, you are usually given two or three glosses - for example, scrip is glossed as 'bag, pouch, wallet'.
If you then look up bag in the Thesaurus, you'll see scrip and the other words in the Glossary used for the notion of carrying something in a small container: bladder, cloak-bag, mail, poke, and purse. You can click on any of these words to see their meaning and where Shakespeare uses them.
It's important to look at the quotations as well as the Glossary definitions, as these provide the context for the glosses. For example, bag containing the great seal shows purse (n.). Clicking on this will take you to the Glossary entry, and there you'll see the Headword locations where it's used - only in Henry VIII.
Sometimes, because of the alphabetical ordering of the headwords, related items can be separated. For example, when searching for leg, the words leg and legs are separated by legend, legal, and other items.
Some uses of the Thesaurus
You can see in one place all the Glossary words that relate to a particular meaning - all the words to do with 'anger', for instance, or 'archery'. We already include a few themes like weapons and swearing in our Topics section
. The Thesaurus extends this approach to all
the meanings covered by the Glossary.
You can explore Shakespearean English in a more systematic way - for example, finding the words for 'high quality' (such as delicate
) along with those for 'low quality' (such as meagre
You can find a Glossary word whose meaning you vaguely remember - a 'mischievous boy', perhaps? Or if you've forgotten a name, but you know it's something to do with 'weeping'?
- Look up mischievous or boy and you'll find wag.
- Look up weeping and you'll find Niobe.