Shakespeare used very colorful and eloquent language; however, many ordinary words had different meaning in the author’s time. The word “habit” that appeared in the sonnet 138 and in the Elizabethan time had several determinations that are not popular today. Nowadays, the word “habit” is used in order to indicate an action or emphasize the tendency of doing something, while in Shakespearean context, word “habit” is not an action.
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Making a research of the word “habit”, I found the new ways of comprehending the sonnet 138. The author uses word “habit” in order to emphasize the most important characteristic of love – honesty between lovers. In Shakespeare’s time, the most common meaning of “habit” was “clothes” or “dress”, not “action” or typical characteristic. But, analyzing the sonnet, I found that Shakespeare uses this word not as indication of “clothes” but as characteristic.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word “habit” can be considered as a regular tendency or practice that cannot be given up. Moreover, in psychology, habit is an automatic reaction of body cause by the different situation. Besides, habit can be definite as an addictive practice of taking drugs, for instance, a heroin habit.
The definition of habit as the clothes or dress today usually is considered as an archaic. However, in Shakespeare’s time, in 1590s, “be habited” had the same meaning as “be dressed”. The origin of “habit” comes from old French “abit” and Latin “habitus” that meant appearance and “habere” – to have, to hold.
From the beginning, this word was used in the context of clothes and appearance and got the meaning of mental condition and drug addiction later. Today, habit can be considered as a clothes only restricting to monks and nuns. As monks go to change their way of life, they cover body with another clothes as a symbolical habit. Such sense still exists in the modern Italian language.
Thus, word “abito” with a dropped “h” means “dress” and can be used in the word combination “abito mentale” as a description of the psychical conditions. Therefore, the word “habit” came to English language from Latin and its successor Italian language in early XIII century, getting a new meaning as a type of behavior in XIV and as a drug addiction at the end of XIX century.
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Writing about the relationships between man and woman, Shakespeare says: “O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust.” In this context, word “habit” is not an action; it is rather the second nature of love, its typical characteristic.
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The author indicates an idea that love causes people to be honest with each other. In the sonnet 138, Shakespeare uses other archaic words such as “credit” – “believe” and “age in love” with a meaning of the “old lovers”. Those words help to understand the nature of love and, thereby, the meaning of word “habit”. As we see, love requires a credit and old loves know it well.
If lovers are not honest, probably love is gone. The word “lie” is used as a pun in order to show the nature of relationships with its good and bad sides. Lie is the opposite of love’s habit. It is possible to notice that, using the word “habit”, the author wants to describe the characteristic of love that requires people to be honest in the relationships, but they still lie and betray.