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From Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1, Act III Scene 1:

GLENDOWER: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

HOTSPUR: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?

The phrase "vasty deep" is still somewhat used, and "vasty" appears in modern dictionaries, but only in reference to this one passage of Shakespeare. I'd guess that "vasty" might have been used instead of "vast" for reasons of rhythm, but was it a recognised word at the time, or was Shakespeare exercising some poetic license to invent a new variant of "vast"?

  • The OED isn't aware of any use before Shakespeare. But that doesn't really mean much; Shakespeare is given credit for the first use of lots of words that he probably didn't invent (although I suspect he invented this one). – Peter Shor Mar 7 at 14:47
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There are five occurrences of "vasty" in Shakespeare's plays:

  • 1 Henry IV, III.1.50: "I can call spirits from the vasty deep"
  • Henry V, Prologue: "Can this cockpit hold / The vasty fields of France?"
  • Henry V, II.2.123: "He might return to vasty Tartar back"
  • Henry V, II.4.105: "the poor souls for whom this hungry war / Opens his vasty jaws"
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor, II.7.41: "the vasty wilds / Of wide Arabia"

A Shakespeare Glossary by C. T. Onions (revised by Robert D. Eagleson, 1986) defines "vasty" as "Vast, immense, boundless". (Shakespeare also used the term "vastidity", meaning "immensity", in Measure for Measure.)

Gary Taylor's edition of Henry V (The Oxford Shakespeare, 1982) notes,

According to OED, Shakespeare invented this word. He never uses it in prose; three of its five appearances are in this play.

The fact that Shakespeare only used it in verse suggests why he invented (or used) "vasty" instead of "vast": to fit the iambic metre of his lines.

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