The language of William Shakespeare

There is a scene in Black Adder where Rowan Atkinson punch William Shakespeare inShakespeare the shape of Colin Firth for the suffering he has caused endless school boys and school girls for the past 400 years, as they without result tried to find a joke in Midsummer Night´s Dream.

But while it is a recurring joke about the torment suffered primarily by English students as they were forced to read Shakespeare in school, one shouldn´t underestimate his impact on the language we all speak when we speak English, regardless if it´s as mother tongue or an acquired language later on. Surely we have all at one point stated that something or someone – maybe ourselves even – has “seen better days”? Maybe we have “come full circle” or stated that we´ve ended up with “strange bedfellows”. All of a sudden, we have without realising it, most likely, quoted William Shakespeare. It has been estimated that Shakespeare used 17 677 words in his work, plays, poems, sonnets included, and that 1 700 of those words were used for the very first time the moment Shakespeare wrote them down.

He is also considered to have borrowed freely from classical literature and languages other than English, something actually done by the entire nation during the period; it´s estimated that between 1500 and 1659, no less than 30 000 new words were added to the English language through nouns, verbs and modifiers of Latin, Greek and modern Romance languages.

quotesIn Shakespeare´s time, as well as -of course – prior to his time, English was not standardised, but as his plays became popular, it contributed to shaping a more uniform language.

Shakespeare has of course inspired other playwrights and authors, Charles Dickens and Herman Melville have been mentioned, but also more recent cultural expressions, such as lines in songs, titles of albums and films.

A few examples are given by Hepzibah Andersson in her article for BBC Culture; singer Nick Lowe, Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock borrowed from Hamlet while Iron Maiden got a quote from Richard III and Mumford and Sons found a title for an album in Much Ado About Nothing.

Whether that was done unwittingly or done intentionally, I dare not say, but I can promise you that you at some point will quote Shakespeare without thinking about it. Maybe you are visited by the “green-eyed monster of jealousy”, or you simply refer to something as “gossip”, and there he is, smiling just in the corner of your eye.



How Shakespeare influences the way we speak now – Hepzibah Andersson, BBC Culture

Words Shakespeare invented – Shakespeare Online

Shakespeare coined words now common currency – Jennifer Vernon, National Geographic News




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s