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.
Shakespeare’s influence on 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.
- 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?