William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s preeminent dramatist. His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several shorter poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. William Shakespeare’s influence extends from theatre and literature to present-day movies and the English language itself.
Shakespeare transformed European theatre by expanding expectations about what could be accomplished through characterization, plot, language and genre. Shakespeare’s writings have also impacted a large number of notable novelists and poets over the years, including Herman Melville and Charles Dickens, and continue to influence new authors even today.
Shakespeare is the most quoted writer in the history of the English-speaking world after the various writers of the Bible, and many of his quotations and neologisms have passed into everyday usage in English and other languages. Shakespeare made many contributions to English Literature and one of the ones that affect us every day is his contribution to the English language.
Shakespeare is called the greatest author in the English language not only because his works are in English, but also for his profound and lasting impact on the language itself. Of the 25,000 words in the canon, roughly 3,000 were coined by Shakespeare himself. The article “Words Shakespeare Invented” by Amanda Mabillard contains a list of a few words Shakespeare coined. 2 Shakespeare’s writings greatly influenced the entire English language. Prior to and during Shakespeare’s time, the grammar and rules of English were not standardized.
But once Shakespeare’s plays became popular in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century, they helped contribute to the standardization of the English language, with many Shakespearean words and phrases becoming embedded in the English language. Among Shakespeare’s greatest contributions to the English language must be the introduction of new vocabulary and phrases which have enriched the language making it more colourful and expressive.
Some estimates at the number of words coined by Shakespeare number in the several thousands. One word Shakespeare is known to have coined is the word “accused”. He took the Greek prefix acou-, acous-, acouso-, or acoust-, meaning “denotes hearing,” which was already being used in Late Middle English, and combined it with the past tense ending -ed to refer to those who are on trial are those who need a hearing to determine their guilt or innocence.
Shakespeare first coined the word accused in the play Richard II, Act I, Scene I, when, speaking of those who are being formally charged of treason, King Richard II says: Then call them to our presence; face to face, And frowning brow to brow, ourselves will hear The accuser and the accused freely speak. (I. i. 16-18) The word unreal was also coined by Shakespeare. He took the Latin prefix un-meaning “not” or “deprived of” and combined it with the Latin 3 word realis being used in Late Middle English as a word in legal terminology meaning “relating to things, especially real property”.
The word unreal first appears in Macbeth in Act III, Scene IV when Macbeth exclaims of the ghost of Banquo, “Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery, hence! ” 1. 1. Influen on Theatre Shakespeare’s works have been a major influence on subsequent theatre. Not only did Shakespeare create some of the most admired plays in Western literature. For example Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear had being ranked among the world’s greatest plays.
He also transformed English theatre by expanding expectations about what could be accomplished through plot and language. Specifically, in plays like Hamlet, Shakespeare “integrated characterization with plot,” such that if the main character was different in any way, the plot would be totally changed. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare mixed tragedy and comedy together to create a new romantic tragedy genre. Through his soliloquies, Shakespeare showed how plays could explore a character’s inner motivations and conflict.
1. 2. Influence on Europe and America Literature Shakespeare is cited as an influence on a large number of writers in the following centuries, including major novelists such as Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and William Faulkner. Examples of this influence include the large number of Shakespearean quotations throughout Dickens’ writings and the fact that at least 25 of Dickens’ titles are drawn from Shakespeare, while Melville frequently used Shakespearean devices, including formal stage directions and extended soliloquies, in Moby-Dick.
In fact, Shakespeare so influenced Melville that 4 the novel’s main antagonist, Captain Ahab, is a classic Shakespearean tragic figure, “a great man brought down by his faults. ” Shakespeare has also influenced a number of English poets, especially Romantic poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge who were obsessed with self-consciousness, a modern theme Shakespeare anticipated in plays such as Hamlet. Shakespeare’s writings were so influential to English poetry of the 1800s that critic George Steiner has called all English poetic dramas from Coleridge to Tennyson feeble variations on Shakespearean themes.
1. 3. Influence on the English Language Shakespeare’s writings greatly influenced the entire English language. Prior to and during Shakespeare’s time, the grammar and rules of English were not standardized.
But once Shakespeare’s plays became popular in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century, they helped contribute to the standardization of the English language, with many Shakespearean words and phrases becoming embedded in the English language, particularly through projects such as Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language which quoted Shakespeare more than any other writer. He expanded the scope of English literature by introducing new words and phrases experimenting with blank verse, and also introducing new poetic and grammatical structures.
5 2. Categories of William Shakespeare’s Plays Shakespearean’s plays can be divided into three categories. The three categories are comedy, tragedy and historical plays. 2. 1. Characteristics of William Shakespeare’s Comedy and Tragedy When studying Shakespearean comedy, there are several traits that are common to all of The Bard’s comedic works.
It is important to note that the term “comedy” didn’t quite have the same meaning to Elizabethan audiences as it does today.
While there is certainly quite a bit of humour to be found in Shakespeare’s comedies, “comedy” generally referred to a light-hearted play with a happy ending, as opposed to his more dramatic tragedies and history plays. 2. 2. Shakespeare’s Comedies The comedies of William Shakespeare are All’s Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, Cymbeline, Love’s Labour Lost, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Pericles Prince of Tyre, Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Troilus and Cressida, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Winter’s Tale and Measure for Measure.
Some of these works are truly funny from beginning to end, while others, like The Merchant of Venice, have a very serious tone or strong dramatic moments. In all of these works, there are few common elements can be found in Shakespearean’s Comedy. 2. 2. 1. Young lovers struggling to overcome obstacles 6 There will be a struggle for young lovers to overcome difficulty in William Shakespeare’s Comedy. These obstacles are typically brought out by the elders in the play, often parents or guardians of the lovers.
Various circumstances cause the lovers to be kept apart, either literally or figuratively, and thus they must find their way back together in the end. For example in the Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia and Lysander must also overcome a major obstacle if they want to be together because Hermia’s dad wants her to marry someone else. 2. 2. 2. A Greater Emphasis on Situations than Characters William Shakespeare gave greater emphasis to a situation than a character.
This numbs the audience’s connection to the characters, so that when characters experience misfortune, the audience still finds it laughable. For example in the play of Midsummer Night’s Dream, both Demetrius and Lysander suddenly leave off being in love with Hermia and fall in love with Helena, and they do not know why, even though the viewer does know.
2. 2. 3. Deception of Characters Deception of characters is one of the common characteristics for William Shakespeare’s Comedy, especially mistaken identity. Whether it takes the form of mixed-up twins or a clever disguise, mistaken identity was one of Shakespeare’s favourite and most-used plot devices. Gender mix-ups were also quite popular. Shakespeare quite often had characters masquerading as the opposite sex, leading to many misunderstandings and comical situations.
During Shakespeare’s lifetime, men frequently played all the roles in a play, which added another dimension to the comedy. For example in the Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino and Lady Olivia have 7 mistaken identity on Viola as a man, because Viola has disguised herself as a man in order to work for Duke Orsino. 2. 2. 4. Separation and re-unification Separation of family or lovers is also one of the famous characteristic can be found in William Shakespeare’s Comedies. For instance, in the Twelfth Night, Viola and her identical twin brother, Sebastian have separated for a period because they met a storm and faced shipwreck. Finally they meet each other again at the end of the play.
2. 2. 5. Clever Plot Twists
Shakespearean comedy always involves multiple plot lines, cleverly intertwined to keep the audience guessing. These unexpected twists are always straightened out in a happy ending. Interesting climax often with an unexpected twist has made Shakespeare’s Comedy unique. For example, in the Twelfth Night, when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew attacked Sebastian which they thought Sebastian was Cesario, Lady Olivia came in to stop the fight and she asks Sebestian to marry her. While she also thought Sebastian was Cesario.
2. 2. 6. Clever dialogue and witty banter: Shakespeare is a huge fan of punning and snappy wordplay; so naturally, his characters know how to get their witty repartee on. Shakespeare reserves some of the best dialogue for his warring lovers, especially Oberon and Titania in the Midsummer Night’s Dream, and even the “rude mechanicals” manage to wow us with their clever banter. 8 2. 2. 7. Happy Ending All the Shakespearean Comedies have happy ending. For example, at the end of the Twelfth Night, Viola and Orsino, Lady Olivia and Sebastian and Maria and Sir Toby, they finally found their love ones.
2. 3. Shakespearean’s Tragedies Shakespeare’s tragedies are typically the easiest to identify because they contain a heroic figure, often a nobleman, who has a serious fatal flaw. Their weakness thus becomes their down fall and is often the cause of their or others demise. Also included as elements of tragedy is a serious theme, and in the end the death of someone important. Listed below are some of the most common elements in Shakespearean tragedies. 2. 3. 1. The Fatal Flaw All of the heroes in Shakespeare’s tragedies have a weakness in personality that eventually leads to their downfall. For example, in the Romeo and Juliet, because of Romeo kindness, his friend, Mercutio fought with Tybalt and died.
2. 3. 2. Fall of the Nobleman Many of the men in Shakespeare’s tragedies have extreme wealth and power, making their downfall more tragic. For example, in the Romeo and Juliet, Romeo and Juliet came from high class family, but their parents were enemies and caused Romeo and Juliet died at the end. 9 2. 3. 3. External pressure Shakespeare’s tragic heroes often fall victim to external pressure from others, such as evil spirits and manipulative characters who play a role in their downfall. 2. 3. 4. Hero The hero has opportunities for redemption but never takes advantage of these in time, which leads to death.
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