How Yoda Helps Students Master Shakespeare

How Yoda Helps Students Master Shakespeare

 

The new Star Wars movie is a gift to English teachers.  Easy Shakespeare is when Yoda-speak know you.  Yoda’s speech patterns can help students overcome one of the biggest obstacles to understanding Shakespeare:  the unfamiliar word order known as syntax inversion.  Yoda, like Shakespeare, plays around with word order. 

Why so strangely Yoda speaks?  In English the most common word order is subject-verb-object.  Adjectives come before nouns (He is a tall man.)  Adverbs come after verbs (She speaks softly).  Prepositional phrases typically follow the word they describe (He shops at Target.  The house on the corner is mine) Yoda switches the word order like this:

STANDARD ENGLISH                                  YODA

You are strong, Luke.                                 Strong you are, Luke. 
I go sadly into the mist.                              Into the mist sadly go I.
The future is always in motion.                Always in motion the future is.
I can’t go there.                                            Go there, I cannot.

Shakespeare’s sentences often sound like Yoda’s.  Here are some examples:

YODA                                                              SHAKESPEARE

Much to learn you have.                             The castle of Macduff I will surprise.
      The Phantom Menace                                   Macbeth

Around the survivors, a perimeter            Round about the cauldron go. In the    
create.    Attack of the Clones                     poisoned entrails throw.  Macbeth       

Strong am I in the Force.                            Rude am I in speech . . .  Othello        
       Return of the Jedi                                        

Agrees with you, the council does.            Look I so pale, Dorset, as the rest?    
       The Phantom Menace                                   Richard III

Need that, you do not.                                Repays he my deep service with such    
      The Phantom Menace                           contempt? Richard III

The shadow of greed, that is.                     Crowns in my purse I have . . .            
       Revenge of the Sith                                     The Taming of the Shrew             

The boy you trained, gone he is.                 A gallant knight he was.                      
       Revenge of  Sith                                            Henry IV Part 1

If into the security recordings you go,        From that place I shall no leading      
only pain you will find.                                    need.  King Lear                              
         Revenge of the Sith

Syntax inversion is a literary device that pre-dates Shakespeare.  Translations of Homer’s Iliad use it:  “Proud is the spirit of Zeus-fostered kings.”  Inversion is common in the King James Version of the Bible:  “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.”  The Star Wars screenwriters use syntax inversion to characterize Yoda as an ancient Jedi Master.   Inversion also makes Yoda’s lines stand out from all the other characters’ lines, reinforcing his superior wisdom and status.

Star Wars:  Episode VII – The Force Awakens opens December 18, 2015. 
Coming soon on www.grammardog.com . . . a free downloadable syntax inversion quiz that uses Yoda-like lines from Shakespeare. 
May the Force be with you!

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