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Shakespeare Glossary: A

If you need more information on a particular word or the context in which it is used, please see the play or sonnet in which the word appears for detailed annotations at the bottom of each page.

Also please see Shakespeare's Characters: A to Z. Here you will find a comprehensive list of every Shakespearean character and the play in which he or she appears. Included is our exclusive spelled pronunciation guide, essential for actors and teachers, and an in-depth biography of many of Shakespeare's most popular and fascinating creations.

ABANDONED: banished, kept away from.

ABATE:  to lessen, shorten; to blunt; to bar.

ABATEMENT:  reduction, diminution.

ABHOR:  to horrify, disgust; to protest.

ABIDE:  remain, make only a brief stay (Winter's Tale. 4.2); to face or encounter.

ABILITY: wealth, means.

ABJECT: adj. an object of contempt.

ABJECTLY: basely, horribly.

ABODE:  to bode; i.e., an evil omen. (3KH6, 5.6)

ABORTIVE: born prematurely; unnatural.

ABRIDGEMENT: a short play.

ABROAD: apart from one's own body; away from one's home.

ABROOK: abide, bear.

ABSEY-BOOK:  an ABC book.

ABSOLUTE:  positive, certain.

ABUSE:  to deceive.

ABUSE:  deception.

ABY:  to atone for.

ABYSM:  abyss.

ACCITED:  summoned. (Titus Andronicus, 1.1)

ACCUSE:  accusation.

ACHIEVE:  to obtain.

ACKNOWN:  acknowledge.

ACQUITTANCE (1):  a receipt or discharge.

ACQUITTANCE (2):  to acquit, clear.

ACTION-TAKING:  wanting satisfaction through the law.

ACTURE:  action, performance.

ADDITION: title, attribute.

ADDRESS: to prepare oneself.

ADDRESSED:  prepared.

ADVANCE:  to prefer, promote to honour.

ADVERTISEMENT:  admonition.

ADVERTISING: attentive.

ADVICE:  consideration, discretion.

ADVISE: sometimes neuter, sometimes reflective, to.

ADVISED:  considerate.

ADVOCATION:  pleading, advocacy.

AFEARED:  afraid.

AFFECT:  to love.

AFFRAY:  frighten.

AFFY:  to affiance.

AFRONT:  in front.

AGAZED:  looking in amazement.

AGLET-BABY:  the small figure engraved on a jewel.

AGNIZE: to acknowledge, confess. (Othello, 1.3)

A-GOOD: a good deal, plenteously.

A-HOLD: a sea-term.

AIERIE: the nest of a bird of prey.

AIM: a guess.

ALDERLIEFEST: dearest of all.

ALE: alehouse.

ALLAYMENT: abatement; antidote (Cym. 1.5.22).

ALL HID: the game of hide and seek.

ALLIGANT: a corruption of either 'elegant' or 'eloquent', used in Wiv. 2.2.69.

ALLICHOLLY: a corruption of melancholy.

ALLOW: to approve.

ALLOWANCE: approval.

ALMAIN:  a German.

ALMS-BASKET:  public charity (to live on public charity - LLL 5.1.42).

ALMS-DEED:  act of charity.

ALMS-DRINK:  remains of drink set aside for the poor.

ALMS-MAN:  a person supported by charity.

ALOES: a bitter drug.

ALONE: unique.

ALTER: to exchange.

AMAIN: with force.

AMAZE: to bewilder, confound.

AMBLE: to move around with ease; to move affectedly.

AMBUSCADO:  ambush.

AMES-ACE: two aces, the lowest throw of the dice.

AMERCE:  punish by fining.

AMISS:  misfortune; disaster.

AMORT: dejected; dispirited.

AN: if.

ANCHOR: an anchorite, hermit.

ANCIENT: an ensign-bearer.

ANGEL: a coin, so called because it bore the image of.

ANIGHT: by night.

ANSWER: retaliation.


ANTICK: the fool in the old plays.

ANTRE: a cave.

APPARENT: heir-apparent.

APPEAL: accusation.

APPEAL: to accuse.

APPEARED: made apparent.

APPLE-JOHN: a kind of apple.

APPOINTMENT: preparation.

APPREHENSION: sharp wit.

APPREHENSIVE: quick to understand.

APPROBATION: probation.

APPROPRIATION:  special attribute or excellence.

APPROOF:  trial, proof; approbation..

APPROVE:  to prove, demonstrate to be true, confirm; to convict; to put to the test; to commend.

APPROVER:  one who orders a trial.

AQUA-VITAE:  ardent spirits.

AQUILON:  the north wind.

ARABIAN BIRD:  phoenix.

ARABIAN TREE:  the tree of the phoenix.

ARCH:  chief, prime, principal.

ARGAL:  a corruption of Ergo.

ARGENTINE: silver.

ARGIER: Algiers.

ARGOSY:  a vessel of Ragusa in Sicily: hence a ship of large size (Merchant of Venice, 1.1).

ARGUMENT:  proof, evidence; subject of debate; subject matter of discourse.

ARMIGERO: a mistake for Armiger, the Latin for Esquire.

AROINT:  get thee out of the way.

A-ROW:  one after another.

ARRAS:  hanging screen of tapestry.

ARREST:  to seize; an order or decree.

ARTICULATE: to enter into articles of agreement; to set forth in articles.

ASKANCE:  to turn aside.

ASPECT:  look, glance.

ASPEN:  of the asp tree.

ASPERSION:  sprinkling (of dew).

ASPIC:  an asp.

ASPIRE:  to be ambitious; to rise; to mount up to (obs).

ASSAIL:  to address with offers of love.

ASSAY:  attempt; to learn by experience; to accost (with words of love); to challenge to a trial of skill.

ASSAY: to attempt, test, make proof of.

ASSINEGO: an ass.

ASSUBJUGATE: to subjugate.

ASSURANCE: deed of assurance.

ASSURED: betrothed.

ASTRAE:  goddess of justice.

ATOMY: an atom; tiny being (insect).

ATONE:  to reconcile, unite.

ATTACH: to seize, lay hold on.

ATTASKED: taken to task, reprehended.

ATTEND: to listen to.

ATTENT: attentive.

ATTORNEY: an agent.

ATTORNEY:  agent, deputy; advocate or pleader.

AUDACIOUS:  spirited, daring.

AUGUR (1):  carpenter's tool for creating holes in wood.

AUGUR (2):  a prophet; to prophesy (vb).

AUGURE:  augury.

AUGURER:  religious official among the Romans.

AUNT:  old woman; a gossip.

AURICULAR:  perceived by the ear.

AUTHENTIC:  of authority.

AUSPICIOUS:  favourable; spreading happiness.

AVAUNT:  order to be gone.

AVE:  shout of welcome (Latin for hail).

AVE-MARY:  recited in saying the Rosary.

AVERRING: confirming.

AVOID: get rid of.

AVOUCH: guarantee; an assurance.

AWELESS: fearless; that inspires no awe.

AWFUL:  respectful; law-abiding.

AWKWARD:  adverse (invented by Shk.), unfavourable; uncouth.

AY:  yes.

AYE:  ever.

Notes on Shakespeare

Shakespeare was familiar with seven foreign languages and often quoted them directly in his plays. His vocabulary was the largest of any writer, at over twenty-four thousand words. Read on...

Henry Bolingbroke, the eldest son of John of Gaunt and the grandson of King Edward III, was born on April 3, 1367. Henry usurped the throne from the ineffectual King Richard II in 1399, and thus became King Henry IV, the first of the three kings of the House of Lancaster. Read on...

An arras is a tapestry hanging, often with figures and scenes woven into the fabric. It is named after Arras, the town in Artois famous for making tapestry.

An atomy is the smallest particle of matter (an atom). The most famous use of the word atomy in the plays is found in Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, Romeo and Juliet (1.4)

Shakespeare acquired substantial wealth thanks to his acting and writing abilities, and his shares in London theatres. The going rate was £10 per play at the turn of the sixteenth century. So how much money did Shakespeare make? Read on...

Ate [Ah-tay] was the goddess of discord and mischief. Shakespeare mentions her several times in the plays. See Julius Caesar (3.1), Love's Labour's Lost (5.2), etc.

Known to the Elizabethans as ague, Malaria was a common malady spread by the mosquitoes in the marshy Thames. The swampy theatre district of Southwark was always at risk. King James I had it; so too did Shakespeare's friend, Michael Drayton. Read on...

Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most captivating and complex figures in history. In 1152, Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet (later to become Henry II). Their son, John, was born in 1167 and is the title character of Shakespeare's history play.