What is it ye would see?

Despite this being a ye olde play (and I use that in its most ridiculous ye merrie olde England sense) one does not actually see much “ye” in Shakespeare. My sense is that it is used here as something like y’all, that is, a general collective you. Did it have a sense of extreme formality for Shakespeare?

This is just such an interesting moment for it suddenly to appear. Here is Horatio, thrust into the diplomatic spotlight, surrounded by dead bodies. If this was America and he was black, all of “Norway” and “England” would come in with their guns drawn. But it does not appear to be a concern here. They seem to have some idea of what they’re getting into when they come in but Horatio’s style of speech is very different with them than at any previous time in the play. This “ye” feels like it comes out of nowhere. But then, because it doesn’t show up that much in Shakespeare, I’m not so familiar with its implications. My other association with it feels like it’s connected to Dante’s inferno. Abandon all hope ye who enter here!

Is that what Horatio is evoking? Did Shakespeare read Dante? Did his audience? Were there reverberations of these ambassadors and royalty entering hell? Horatio switches back to “you” in the very next sentence so it is only a brief moment in this ye world and I would like to know more about it.


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