10 Ways Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

10 Ways Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk


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Although it can be difficult to attribute the origination of a precise word to a specific person, the Oxford English Dictionary credits William Shakespeare with the first-use citations of approximately 1,600 words—from “bedazzle” to “fashionable” to “watchdog”—more than by any other writer. The master of wordplay also contributed dozens of other phrases that remain a part of our everyday language. In some cases, Shakespeare may have coined the terms; in others he may have been the first to put them into the written record.

According to Stephen Marche, author of “How Shakespeare Changed Everything,” the playwright utilized various linguistic techniques to create new words. He anglicized foreign words, such as creating “bandit” from the Italian “banditto”; fused prefixes and suffixes onto preexisting words to craft new words and converted nouns to verbs, such as “to elbow” someone out of the way.

“Shakespeare had language and very little else to create effects,” Marche says. “He was the special-effects master of language. That’s why the language is so dense and intense.” The reason why so many of the bard’s words and phrases continue to resonate hundreds of years after his death remains one of literature’s great mysteries, according to Marche. “Is it just because Shakespeare was imposed on audiences for so long? Or is it something in the words themselves? It’s impossible to know.”

Among the hundreds of Shakespeare’s enrichments to the popular lexicon are the following 10 words and phrases:

1. Green-eyed monster
In “Othello,” the arch-villain (another word credited to Shakespeare) Iago warns the title character: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” Shakespeare had earlier referred to “green-eyed jealousy” in “The Merchant of Venice,” perhaps employing the color because seventeenth-century writers equated a green complexion with illness.

2. Critic
In “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” the lovesick Berowne laments his past judgmental behavior and refers to himself as “a critic, nay, a night-watch constable.” By anglicizing a Greek word that means “to judge or decide,” Shakespeare unwittingly gave birth to a word used to describe centuries of reviewers who praised and condemned actors and actresses reciting his works.

3. Wild goose chase
The first recorded citation of the phrase appears in “Romeo and Juliet” when Mercutio refers to a quick-fire exchange of jokes with his friend Romeo, “If thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.” While today the phrase means a “hopeless quest” by evoking the futility of chasing a wild goose, in Shakespeare’s time it referred to a horse race in which the trailing riders followed a leader weaving along an unmarked course in a formation mimicking wild geese.

4. Hot-blooded/Cold-blooded
Shakespeare equated levels of excitement with blood temperature several times in his writings. In “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Falstaff exclaims, “The Windsor bell hath struck twelve; the minute draws on. Now, the hot-blooded gods assist me!” In “King Lear,” the title character refers to “hot-blooded France.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, the widow Constance in “King John” berates the emotionless Limoges as a “cold-blooded slave.”

5. Skim milk
In “Henry IV,” Shakespeare uses the skimming of cream from milk to describe someone of weak character. When Hotspur condemns a nobleman for failing to support his rebellion against the king, he proclaims, “I could divide myself and go to buffets, for moving such a dish of skim-milk with so honorable an action!”

6. Be-all and end-all
When the title character in “Macbeth” ponders the assassination (another word credited to Shakespeare) of Scotland’s King Duncan, he contemplates the consequences both in his earthly bounds and in the afterlife: “That but this blow might be the be-all and the end-all—here, but here, upon this bank and shoal of time, we’d jump the life to come.”

7. Zany
Shakespeare employed “zany” as a noun rather than as an adjective after anglicizing the Italian word “zanni,” which referred to characters in sixteenth-century Italian comedies who mimicked the antics of clowns and other performers. In “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” Berowne blames the discovery of one of his tricks on “some slight zany.”

8. Eyeball
Shakespeare commonly created words such as “eyeball” by marrying together two existing words. In “The Tempest” Prospero instructs the spirit Ariel: “Go make thyself like a nymph o’ the sea: be subject to no sight but thine and mine; invisible to every eyeball else.” Shakespeare also used the plural “eyeballs” several times, including in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when Oberon instructs Puck to sprinkle the juice of a flower in Lysander’s eyes that will “make his eyeballs roll with wonted sight.”

9. Night owl
When Shakespeare wrote “for night-owls shriek where mounting larks should sing” in “Richard II,” he was referring to the nocturnal birds. When he employed the term in the narrative poem “The Rape of Lucrece,” however, he used it in a figurative sense to describe people partial to nightlife: “This said, his guilty hand pluck’d up the latch, and with his knee the door he opens wide. The dove sleeps fast that this night-owl will catch: thus treason works ere traitors be espied.”

10. Jessica
Marche says that Shakespeare’s most remarkable addition to the English language may be the girl’s name “Jessica,” a possible anglicization of a biblical name employed by the playwright for the daughter of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.” “Nobody names their daughter ‘Jessica’ because they think Shakespeare invented it. They just do it because it’s a great name,” Marche says.


The Influence of the Renaissance in Shakespeare's Work

It’s very easy to think of Shakespeare as a unique genius with a singular perspective on the world around him. However, Shakespeare was very much a product of the radical cultural shifts that were occurring in Elizabethan England during his lifetime.

When Shakespeare was working in the theater, the Renaissance movement in the arts was peaking in England. The new openness and humanism are reflected in Shakespeare’s plays.


Summary

Sonnet 18 is perhaps the most famous of the 154 sonnets Shakespeare completed in his lifetime (not including the six he included in several of his plays). The poem was originally published, along with Shakespeare's other sonnets, in a quarto in 1609. Scholars have identified three subjects in this collection of poems—the Rival Poet, the Dark Lady, and an anonymous young man known as the Fair Youth. Sonnet 18 is addressed to the latter.

The poem opens with the immortal line "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" following which Shakespeare does just that, finding the youth's beauty even "more lovely and more temperate" that that of summer. Here Shakespeare is at his most romantic, writing that love and the youth’s beauty are more permanent than a summer’s day, which is tainted by occasional winds, blistering heat, and the eventual change of season. While summer must always come to an end, the speaker’s love for the man is eternal—and the youth's "eternal summer shall not fade."

The young man to whom the poem is addressed is the muse for Shakespeare’s first 126 sonnets. Although there is some debate about the correct ordering of the texts, the first 126 sonnets are thematically interlinked and demonstrate a progressive narrative. They tell of a romantic affair that becomes more passionate and intense with each sonnet.

In the previous 17 sonnets, the poet has been trying to convince the young man to settle down and have children, but in Sonnet 18 the speaker abandons this domesticity for the first time and accepts love’s all-consuming passion—a theme that appears again in the sonnets that follow.


How the English Language Is Shakespeare’s Language

Almost all students of English, native and non-native speakers alike, have to study the works of William Shakespeare. Most do so begrudgingly. Part of this reaction is because, despite reassurances from teachers that Shakespeare was one of the most influential writers in the English language (and in the world), many students don’t understand exactly how profound Shakespeare’s influence was on the development of the English language.

Here’s some food for thought:

  • Before Shakespeare’s time, written English was, on the whole, not standardized. His works contributed significantly to the standardization of grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. Shakespeare introduced 1,700 original words into the language, many of which we still use (despite significant changes to the language since Shakespeare’s time). These words include: “lonely,” “frugal,” “dwindle,” and many more>many more.
  • In addition to all these words, many phrases that we use daily originated in Shakespeare’s work. When you talk about “breaking the ice” or having a “heart of gold,” or when you use any number of other phrases, you’re using Shakespeare’s language.
  • Finally, Shakespeare had a profound impact on poetry and literature that has lasted centuries. He perfected blank verse, which became a standard in poetry. Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Charles Dickens were all heavily influenced by Shakespeare. The impact led George Steiner to conclude that romantic English poets were “feeble variations on Shakespearean themes.”

Because of the profound impact of Shakespeare’s language on the way we speak today, studying the works of Shakespeare is an indispensable part of cultural education. Exploring the thousands of ways we still use Shakespeare’s language and themes is not only worthwhile and fascinating, but also fun.

Did you study Shakespeare’s works? What did you like? What did you dislike?


How Was Shakespeare Influenced by Queen Elizabeth?

Queen Elizabeth I was one of Shakespeare's chief patrons and served as a staunch defender of his plays when critics attempted to have them banned from the stage. Her insistence that women were emotionally and intellectually equal to men influenced his portrayal of women characters as three-dimensional human beings, a first in literature and theater at that time.

Elizabeth was a loyal patron of Shakespeare's work throughout his career, according to Shakespeare Online. She was a tremendous fan of theater and the literary arts she was even an accomplished poet. In turn, Shakespeare faithfully supported the queen and referred to her in several of his works, including "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The Bard even performed several of his plays before the monarch in the Royal Palace at Greenwich.

When the Puritans attempted to close down Shakespeare's early plays, Elizabeth stood in opposition to the effort and defended his work publicly, according to a Humanities 360 article.

While Elizabeth ensured Shakespeare continued to write plays, she also directly influenced their future content, according to the author of a Yale National Initiative paper titled "Queen Elizabeth's Influence on Disguise in Shakespeare's Plays and Spenser's 'The Faerie Queene.'" She was the first female British monarch to appear strong and wise as well as feminine. Shakespeare depicted this seeming dichotomy in several of his plays, including "As You Like It," in which two women disguise themselves as men for their own safety, and "The Taming of the Shrew," which features a woman who holds her ground despite being surrounded by arrogant men.


How Did William Shakespeare Change the World?

William Shakespeare changed the world through his poems and dramatic plays, which covered all human emotions, portrayed conflicts and inspired works of literature by authors around the world. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, on April 26, 1954. He wrote plays in four distinct groups: comedies, tragedies, histories and romances, which delved into the realm of human emotions, relationships and psychology.

In addition to writing plays, Shakespeare wrote poems on subjects like love, immortality and beauty. His works explored topics considered controversial during his time such as religion and sexuality. Shakespeare joined Lord Chamberlain's Men, an English company of theatrical players during the late 1590s. That group of actors, then limited to just men, quickly rose to fame and prominence in London. Shakespeare wrote many plays and also acted his characters out onstage. Many enjoyed watching and reading his plays and poems, which lead to Shakespeare earning respect and financial success from his career as a playwright.

However, despite enjoying local fame and popularity, Shakespeare did not gain worldwide attention until after his death in 1616. His plays involved complex characters, tragic heroes and double plots, which made them entertaining, educational and enlightening. People continue performing Shakespeare's plays around the world, and they have been translated into every major language. In total, Shakespeare produced nearly 40 plays, more than 150 sonnets and a myriad of poems.


How Technology Has Changed the Way We Communicate

Once upon a time, people had limited options for exchanging information with one another. It’s probably hard for younger students today to imagine a world where you could only communicate by actually talking directly to another person, face to face or via telephone.

Now we have what can feel like limitless options to transfer information from one person to another. A wide range of disparate channels currently facilitate our chatter, from texting or Skyping with one person, to posting notes via social media that have the power to simultaneously reach everyone we’ve ever met.

    We can communicate faster and more cost-effectively. If you’re in the same room with someone, there’s certainly nothing faster than just opening your mouth and talking. But in our global economy, many of the people we need to communicate with are in different locations. Technology allows us to easily connect with people worldwide using our choice of forums. We don’t have to wait for a stamped letter to make its way across the miles or rack up a big long-distance phone bill (as was the case not that long ago) instead via the Internet we can instantly reach almost anyone whether through email, instant message, social media, or countless apps. As the speed of communicating has ramped up, costs have been dramatically reduced.

While technology is often seen as the culprit behind a decline in face-to-face talking, we have to give credit to technology for opening up many new avenues for expanding the comparatively limited communication options we had available in the past. We can still talk to each other in person (and should make the effort to do so whenever possible to avoid becoming over-reliant on our devices)—but we can also be thankful for the ability to “choose our channel” when communicating today.


6. "FOREVER AND A DAY" // AS YOU LIKE IT, ACT IV, SCENE I

"Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her." — Rosalind

"Forever and a day" — Orlando

We have the Bard to thank for this perfect fodder for Valentine's Day cards and middle school students' love songs.


How have performances of Shakespeare changed over time?

Shakespeare's plays have inspired a variety of interpretations over the centuries. Shehrazade Zafar-Arif, who's completing her MA in Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London, lists and explains some of the differences.

How to perform or adapt Shakespeare when he has been performed over and over since his own time? The question has prompted a variety of performances, from Elizabethan dress to modern day, as well as films, novels, even comics. This undercurrent of anxiety, the fear that yet another performance of Shakespeare might somehow cause him to go stale, to become cliché, has revealed itself in different ways: productions of Shakespeare plays either try to update them and do something new, by playing with setting and gender or they adhere to the 'Original Practices' style, incorporating costumes, acting practices and even casting methods from Shakespeare’s day.

Shakespeare was a product of his time. He did not exist in a vacuum, but was irrevocably tied to the theatre company, theatre practices, acting practices and social circumstances of his era. Revisiting the practices of his time does not somehow resurrect him into the modern age, but is part of an attempt to dip into a period we do not know enough about.

The biggest difference between theatre in Shakespeare’s time and theatre today, one that arguably coloured many other aspects of 16th- or 17th-century theatre practice, was that it lacked something modern theatre companies find invaluable: a director. If we define a director as someone who supplies direction – directing the actor’s body and movement as well as his or her inflection, directing the audience’s gaze on the stage, directing interpretations of a text – then the burden for direction in Shakespeare’s day fell on the text and the actor.

The actor inevitably became a kind of self-director. This was largely facilitated by the acting practices of the period. Each actor was given not the whole script but only his own ‘part’: his lines along with his cues, which were the last four or five words of the actor who would speak before him. A ‘plot’ of the play – a summary of the entrances, exits and other notable actions – would hang in the tiring house (the section of a theatre reserved for the actors) behind the stage for actors to consult.

Rehearsals as we know them today did not exist in Shakespeare’s day either. Actors would memorise their lines on their own, or experienced actors would practise with the younger actors who were apprenticed to them. Often the main actors would sit through a reading of the entire play with the playwright, and the entire company would rehearse the fight scenes and the jigs, which were dependent on precision and timing.

These practices were a product of necessity and practicality: paper was expensive and companies did not wish to risk having too many copies of the play lying around, so each actor was supplied the bare minimum. Candles were also expensive, so actors could only rehearse during the day. A company like Shakespeare’s typically put on six plays a week, which gave them little time to rehearse.

All this put the onus on the actor to direct his own movements and gestures, as well as on the text, which supplied countless small cues to an actor not necessarily found in stage directions: Cordelia’s ‘no, sir, you must not kneel’ reveals that Lear will kneel before her, and Banquo’s ‘Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear…?’ signals Macbeth’s reaction to the witches’ prophecy. Such acting practices seem unfathomable in the modern theatre world, which is preoccupied with details and information: producing backgrounds for characters, each actor being familiar with the entire script months of rehearsal with the collaborative effort of a director, producer, set designer, and countless others.

However, this has not stopped modern theatre companies drawing on acting practices from the 16th and 17th century. Unrehearsed performances are especially popular, such as Emma Whipday’s Two Lamentable Tragedies, which follows the same practice of giving each actor only his or her ‘part’. Many actors and directors such as Philip Bird and Patrick Tucker argue that it gives a performance a sense of vitality and spontaneity, as each actor does not know for sure what the other is about to say, and the play becomes a sort of extempore (spoken without preparation) game. The Globe’s Read Not Dead series, which puts on lesser-known and never-performed plays, allows its actors only the morning to rehearse, and then has them perform the play with scripts in hand. But even the Globe does not adhere to authentic rehearsal practices when following 'Original Practices' style during its regular season, suggesting that some gaps simply cannot be bridged.

Another crucial difference between performing Shakespeare in his time and now is that there were no women actors on the early modern stage – all female parts were played by boy actors. This was hardly as jarring as it might be today. Boy actors, typically between the ages of 14 to 22, were seen as somewhere in between men and women. There were even instances of men in the audience falling in love with a boy actor thinking he was a woman – which says less about the ingenuity of their costumes than it does about how gender was viewed in Shakespeare’s time. Shakespeare poked fun at this deception in plays like The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night and As You Like It, which feature a woman disguised as a man – played by a man who is pretending to be a woman. The text often pokes fun at, and draws attention to, this disparity, with Viola in Twelfth Night telling the lovelorn Olivia that ‘no woman has nor never none / Shall mistress be of [my heart], save I alone’.

This practice has more recently inspired a number of productions in the original style featuring an all-male cast, such as Mark Rylance’s Twelfth Night, in which Rylance himself played Olivia. Such productions have been criticised for reducing the already scarce roles for women actors in Shakespeare, and led to a series of all-female productions, as well as productions where a quintessentially male part is played by a female, such as Maxine Peake playing Hamlet in the Manchester Royal Exchange production. The Reversed Shakespeare Company’s recent ‘gender-bent’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream switched the genders of all the play’s characters, most of whom are defined by their gender roles and expectations.

But perhaps what most affects the way Shakespeare is performed in modern times is the one factor that cannot be controlled by directors and theatre companies: the audience. Based on the little we know about the audiences of Shakespeare's day, their expectations and mindsets, the way they perceived the theatre and what they took from it, were completely different from our own. Even if we had a way of controlling audiences, we couldn't hope to recreate their experience they had of Shakespeare's plays.

In the 16th- and 17th-century playhouses, there was no concept of the fourth wall – the imaginary wall between the stage and the audience. Early modern audiences were acutely aware of the artificiality of what they were seeing, and were comfortable with the theatrical illusion being shattered. They would not sit silently during the performance and would often move about to get a better view, so that actors often had to compete for the spectators’ attention. Wealthier patrons often attended the theatre to be seen as much as to see, and by the 17th century, playhouses had become social spaces. Such audience members would sit onstage or in the galleries behind the stage, putting themselves on display. At court performances, many attended more to see the monarch than the play itself.

Shakespeare, like other playwrights, was aware of the mentality and expectations of his audiences and was constantly playing with and responding to them. This is seen most obviously in soliloquies and asides, where actors address the audiences directly, taking them into confidence, but also in the use of disguises that are painfully obvious to audiences but not to other characters. This created a sense that the audience were in on a private joke against the characters in the play, putting them simultaneously within and outside the world of the play. The plays frequently drew on language that referenced the theatre, acknowledging the physical dimensions of the playhouse, the audience and the actors. The Chorus in Henry V wonders, ‘can this cockpit hold / the vasty fields of France?’ and asks audiences to ‘imagine, think when we talk of horses, that you see them.’ The famous ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech in As You Like It is simultaneously a reflection on the theatre-world analogy so popular at the time, as well as a wink and nudge to the audience.

Modern audiences, meanwhile, are accustomed to sitting in reverent silence during a performance, and find the breaking of the fourth wall more jarring. However, it has become a feature of Globe productions to have actors address the audience or even move among the spectators in the yard – not a practice from the early modern period, notably – incorporating them into the performance. The structure of the Globe makes it easy for the actors to connect with the audience, especially those in the pit. Particularly during crowd scenes, such as Antony’s funeral speech for Caesar, it is easy enough to imagine that the audience becomes part of the world of the play. When Mark Rylance addressed the English army as Henry V at the Globe, one member of the audience called out, ‘We’re with you, Harry!’

One thing that 16th-century theatre and modern theatre have in common is a love of special effects. Though the stage was relatively bare and contained few props, Shakespeare’s audiences had a great love for the visual and for spectacle. The first-ever storm on the early modern stage was staged in Julius Caesar, using a rolling cannonball to create thunder. Early modern plays also used cannons and fireworks – the smell of gunpowder would have been particularly potent for early modern audiences after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 – as well as music and tricks of candlelight in indoor theatres to convey a sense of the supernatural. In a play by Robert Greene called Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, which features a magician’s duel, the stage direction calls for a fire-breathing dragon to fly across the playhouse. Sadly, however, we know very little about how such effects might have been staged.

Special effects today, in the age of cinema and CGI, draw on the spectacular and extravagant with the aim of looking as real as possible. But in Shakespeare’s theatre, which lacked the technology we have today, language was the supplementary tool for these stage effects. Actors would draw on the audiences’ imagination to act out the visual spectacles that they may not have been able to perform, such as when Edgar in King Lear describes the imaginary cliffs of Dover to his blind father as well as the audience.

Furthermore, in Shakespeare’s day, as is the case today, the playhouse was the theatre’s most significant prop. The Globe, for instance, consists of a ‘heavens’, a trapdoor in the roof from which celestial beings and gods could descend suspended on a rope and a ‘hell’, a trapdoor on the stage floor through which devils and demons could enter. Early modern audiences were very conscious of imagery and symbolism and saw the world in terms of a vertical hierarchy. Characters in Shakespeare's plays constantly evoke the celestial or infernal, using both the cultural and religious associations of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ as well as the literal locations above and below them in the playhouse. Though society has changed extensively since Shakespeare’s time, some cultural associations still colour the way we see things, such as dark and light, and above and below.

Our knowledge about playhouse practices in Shakespeare’s time is scant and frequently changing. Up until recently, it was thought that physical gestures on the early modern stage were grand and extravagant, but this has since been largely disproven. The idea that audiences would go to ‘hear a play’ has also been challenged by the argument that Shakespeare’s theatre embodied a visual as well as an oral culture, as indicated by the use of spectacle and stage effects, and elaborate costumes and make-up. But though we have the Globe as an authentic reconstruction, as well as evidence in the form of tracts on the theatre and accounts by audience members, there are some gaps in our knowledge that we may never be able to fill.

In this way, modern productions of Shakespeare are by default a kind of interpretation, with each director choosing how far to deviate or adhere to authenticity – an authenticity which inevitably and paradoxically entails that no two productions of the same play will ever be exactly alike.

Find out about our Shakespeare on Film tour in partnership with the British Film Institute. The tour is part of the British Council's Shakespeare Lives programme of events and activities celebrating Shakespeare’s work on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016.

Study Shakespeare in the UK or online through UK institutions.


10 Ways Shakespeare Changed Everything

In honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday tomorrow, we’ve teamed up with Uncommon Goods to create a printable party kit to celebrate the Bard! (Oh, and we're reposting some of our favorite Shakespeare stories to get you in the mood.)

The basic thesis of Stephen Marche’s How Shakespeare Changed Everything becomes obvious very early on (as in, it is expressed in the title). According to this fun, lyrically written and well-researched book, here are just ten of the many ways that Shakespeare changed everything:

1. He gave us a lot of new words

Just say some words real quick and you’ll probably say one he coined – nearly 10% of his 20,000-word vocabulary was new to his audiences. You may consider yourself quite fashionable or softhearted. You may consider this post to be lackluster. But you couldn’t consider any of those things to be those ways if Shakespeare hadn’t made up the words for you.

2. He inspired an assassin

On November 25, 1864, actor John Wilkes Booth starred as Marc Antony alongside his brothers, Edwin as Brutus and Junius, Jr. as Cassius, in a one-night benefit performance of Julius Caesar at New York City’s Winter Garden Theatre — incidentally raising money to place a statue of Shakespeare on Central Park’s Literary Walk. Five months later, on April 14, 1865, JWB would put on a more impactful performance at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, as a real-life Brutus, assassinating the leader of a nation.

3. He inadvertently caused a pigeon problem

His statue in Central Park is covered in pigeon droppings, and strangely it's kind of his fault. (Yes, the same statue for which the Booth brothers’ benefit raised the funds). It's hard to believe that the veritable starling infestation of New York City came as the direct result of an innocent bird-lovin’, Bard-lovin’ pharmaceutical manufacturer named Eugene Schieffelin but, alas, ‘tis true.

In March of 1860, Schieffelin released a mere sixty starlings into the Central Park air as a part of his effort to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare to North America. Scientists estimate that the descendants of this and another small 1891 Schiefflin-released flock now number in the area of 200 million.

4. He named a lot of babies

Simpson, Biel and Rabbit, just to name a few. The name “Jessica” first appears in Shakespeare. The original Jessica was Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice.

5. He cleared the path for Freud

Shakespeare thought sexual repression was for the birds. His plays are bawdier than anything the Farrely Brothers have devised and, while his own rowdy Globe Theatre crowds ate it up (they were all drunk anyway), future generations found it necessary to censor the Bard substantially. Bell’s Shakespeare from 1773, the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays as they were performed on the English stage, contained only 2/3 of the original material.

6. He helped us understand teen angst

Those who want to see Romeo and Juliet as the embodiments of purity and love, like 18th-century English playwright David Garrick, are met with an imposing editorial task. Garrick’s first cut was the elimination of the character of Rosaline, the source of Romeo’s heartsickness at the play’s outset (she’s the one making his “sad hours seem long” in Act I, Scene 1) and one of many examples of the young man’s rash and impetuous teenage behavior. Apparently, people enjoyed the wishful notion of the purity and sensibility of teenage love, Garrick’s edited version of the play survived, unchanged, for over a hundred years.

7. He invigorated Nazis and anti-Nazis alike

While it's difficult to categorize Shakespearean politics, it's easy to find justification of one’s own prejudices and beliefs in the Shakespeare canon. Many groups and movements have sought to claim him as their own. Shortly after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the Nazi Party issued a pamphlet entitled Shakespeare – A Germanic Writer. Three years later, during the height of Hitler's rule, there were more performances of Shakespeare’s works in Germany than the rest of the world combined.

But those opposed to Hitler’s ideals could also find support in Shakespeare’s works, particularly in Shylock’s well-known speech from The Merchant of Venice.

8. He raised questions about race and prejudice

Just ask Paul Robeson - African-American actor, athlete, activist, and all-around rock star who, in 1943, played the role of Othello on Broadway. To this day, that show’s run of 296 shows is the longest ever for a Shakespeare play on Broadway.

9. He ticked off Tolstoy

Big time. The works of the very-bearded Russian great aside, Shakespeare’s literary influence is immeasurable. Dickens and Keats credited nobody more. Eliot claimed that the modern world can essentially be divided into two categories: those things influenced by Shakespeare and those influenced by Dante. William Faulkner, Aldous Huxley, Vladimir Nabokov, and David Foster Wallace each titled one of their works directly from a line in Shakespeare.

But perhaps the influence Shakespeare had on Tolstoy’s writing was even more profound, since Tolstoy wrote a whole book about his disdain for the Bard. Tolstoy on Shakespeare reveals, unequivocally, that Tolstoy did not merely lack delight in Shakespeare’s work, he derived from it, “irresistible repulsion and tedium” and found the literary world’s reliance on and reference for Shakespeare to be “a great evil – as is every untruth.” Yowza.

10. He killed a tree in Bidford

And he did so years after his own death! Legend has it that a retired lush of a Bard stumbled under said tree – the crab variety – and slept off a night of competitive drinking with Bidford’s supposedly prolific booze hounds. Tourists tore the poor tree to shreds, taking home souvenirs of old Willy’s wild night. In the absence of any really reliable biography, we cling to legends and potentialities to help us understand anything at all about the man whose writing has helped us to understand so much.

And he could have changed even more!

Marche reminds readers of the tantalizing fact that there are lost Shakespeare plays – two, at least, that scholars know existed but we have never had the pleasure of reading or seeing performed. One is Love’s Labors Won, the sequel to Titus Andronicus (just kidding). Love’s Labors Won is mentioned in two different sources, one being a bookseller’s list, meaning the play was likely in print at one time.

The other is Cardenio, which scholars assume from the title is an adaptation of scenes from Don Quixote. 18th-century editor Lewis Theobald allegedly discovered a copy of this manuscript and developed his own play, The Double Falsehood, based on the manuscript. But he never showed the manuscript to anyone and lost it in a fire — either that or he made the whole thing up. Many scholars do believe, however, that The Double Falsehood does, indeed, contain elements of a play originally crafted by Shakespeare.

If you want to celebrate the Bard's Birthday in style, don't forget you can up the Shakesperience with one of our Shakespeare Soiree Printable Party Kits!


Depth of Character

Shakespeare wrote about people who seemed real instead of using stock characters as was common in the theater during his days and in the generations that came before it. This literary device allowed him to make characters like MacBeth or Hamlet sympathetic even though they did some terrible things throughout the course of the play. It is because the Bard made them seem real and human, but flawed that he was able to do this. This influence can be seen in works from the 20th and 21st centuries in both movies and plays by writers like Sam Shepard or Arthur Miller.

Additionally, Shakespeare’s work deviated from that of his contemporaries in that he wrote for every type of person who came to the theater or read poems, not just for the upper class as was common. His plays like “Henry the 4th, part 1” featured not only a king and prince, but also one of the Bard’s most famous comedic characters, Falstaff, which brought a comedic and common touch to the play and appealed to the members of the lower class who attended the plays—often sitting in the same theater as the nobles of the day and during the same performance.

Romeo and Juliet shows Shakespeare’s witty writing style and his creative mastery. At this point in his life (around 1595), he favored a more theatrical structure, such as changing between comedy and tragedy to increase suspense. He expanded minor characters and developed sub-plots to amplify the story. Shakespeare also associated various poetic styles to different characters, occasionally evolving the style as the character developed.


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