William Shakespeare is widely regarded to be the most influential writer in the English language, having written some 38 plays, 154 sonnets and various other works over the course of his life. Not only did he contribute to both the canons of English poetry and drama, but he also influenced the way the language is spoken today. He is said to have coined around 1,700 words and phrases, many of which are woven into everyday speech — so next time you hear someone complaining about having to study Shakespeare at school, remind them we have Shakespeare to thank for the popularisation of the following words:
Ever felt sad and blue and couldn’t put your finger on the word for this emotion? Shakespeare to the rescue! This adjective was coined by the Bard in the following excerpt from Coriolanus: «Believe’t not lightly — though I go alone / Like a lonely dragon that his fen».
These days we are often in too much of a hurry to stop and think about the origins of our words as we speak them, but did you know that this word was first seen in Henry VI Part I? «Lives, honours, lands and all hurry to loss.» Next time you tell someone to hurry up, spare a thought for old Will.
Is there someone you know who just goes on and on and on … ? Shakespeare obviously did when he coined the verb «to rant», or to talk loudly in a way that shows anger, spoken by the most existentialist of tragic heroes, Hamlet: «I’ll rant as well as thou!».
So there you have it: a few words that smatter our daily conversations, but what about when only an expression or proverb will do to express your thoughts? Well, Shakespeare thought of everything! Here are some Shakespearean idioms, proverbs and expressions to get the creative juices flowing:
|• «All that glitters is not gold» = Not everything is as it seems (from The Merchant Of Venice).
|• «Break the ice» = To make an uncomfortable situation more comfortable, breaking the barriers (from The Taming Of The Shrew).
|• «(‘Tis) high time» = It is time we went (from The Comedy Of Errors).
|• «Love is blind» = When you love someone, you fail to see their flaws (from The Merchant Of Venice).
|• «Set my teeth on edge» = It irritates me / I can’t bear it (from Henry VI Part I).
Finally, here’s one you can use if Shakespearean lingo is getting the better of you:
|• «It is / was Greek to me» = I didn’t understand it at all (from Julius Caesar).
As indicated, there’s more to Shakespeare than meets the eye. As well as revolutionising the dramatic world, he was an innovator of the English language and his works stand the test of time: Shakespeare’s plays have been translated into every living language and are still performed more than those of any other playwright in the world.
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