Will's word

5th March 2004 at 00:00
want (verb). "desire, wish, need, require"

Most of the meanings of want found in Shakespeare are still in use today; but there is an inevitable tendency to read in the primary modern meaning - the positive sense of "desire" - in contexts where it does not work. It is the negative sense, of "lack, be without" which is required when Cordelia says to Lear, "I want that glib and oily art To speak and purpose not" (King Lear, I.i.225). This could not possibly mean that Cordelia desires to be glib: she is distancing herself from her two sisters, whom she has just heard speaking in that way. Similarly, in the Epilogue to The Tempest (line 14), when Prospero says "Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant" he does not mean that he desires spirits, for he has just sent them all away. He is reflecting on their absence. Over half of Shakespeare's uses of want are like this.

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


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