At a time when most modern critics seem more concerned with theories of politics and psychology than with poetry, here eminent scholar Frank Kermode takes us back to the essence of Shakespeare – his words. Shakespeare's revolutionary use of language is where the true power of his plays lies. Yet how could he be so wildly experimental with the English language and still remain a popular dramatist? If we sometimes find his plays hard to understand today, was it necessarily much easier for an Elizabethan theatregoer? How and why did Shakespeare's dramatic verse undergo such an extraordinary change around 1600? And why did he develop an obsessive passion for particular words? This landmark study distils a lifetime's thinking to unlock the secrets of Shakespeare's 'wild and whirling words'.