Will's word

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Formal (adjective) "official, polite, ceremonious"

The nearest we get to the modern meaning in Shakespeare is in The Taming of the Shrew (III.i.59), when disguised Lucentio addresses disguised Hortensio: "Are you so formal, sir?" Here formal means punctilious, or stiff. A similar sense of outward show is present when Brutus tells his colleagues to act "as our Roman actors do, With untired spirit and formal constancy" (Julius Caesar, II.i.277). Here it means external or surface.

But in other contexts we see the earliest meaning of formal, from the late 14th Century, where it simply meant "pertaining to the form of something" - in other words, identifying something as being in its normal or complete state. So when Cleopatra says to a Messenger, "Thou shouldst come like a Fury crowned with snakes, Not like a formal man" (Antony and Cleopatra, II.v.41), she means like a sane, rational person.

David Crystal is author, with Ben Crystal, of Shakespeare's Words, published by Penguin

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now