I have always loved Shakespeare and Dickens. I never complained about these set work books when I was at school and I used to sit by myself reading Dickens with a dictionary. I was well aware then, and I am still well aware, that the average school goer is not a big fan of Shakespeare. The chorus of groans when the choice of Shakespearean play for the year is announced, then and now, is a testimony to this viewpoint.
Not many people are aware, however, how many common English words and phrases are attributable to Shakespeare and his genius. Shakespeare invented over 1 700 English words by changing them in various ways such as adding prefixes and suffixes, changing verbs into adjectives and using common words in a totally new and original way. A few examples of words invented by Shakespeare are blood-stained, excitement, fashionable, mimic, amazement and gossip. Imagine life without these words, particularly fashionable and gossip!
In addition, many everyday phrases that we use originate from Shakespearean plays. the ones that immediately spring to my mind are as follows:
Milk of human kindness – Macbeth;
Set my teeth on edge – Henry IV Part 1;
Wear my heart upon my sleeve – Othello;
As good luck would have it – The Merry Wives of Windsor; and
Break the ice – Taming of the shrew
Who has not attended a conference where everyone starts off introducing themselves and with an “icebreaker” to get things going.
Shakespeare apparently had the largest vocabulary of any writer at twenty four thousand words. He was also familiar with seven foreign languages which he used in his plays.
Not only do we have all the amazing new words and phrases to be grateful to Shakespeare for, but he also still has an on-going influence on modern writers. Many writers have, and continue, to use quotes from Shakespeare as titles for their books.
Modern children are very fortunate. There are a multitude of modernise and abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays available to them. The abridged Shakespearean plays published by Orchard Books are retold in modern English and are beautifully illustrated by Tony Ross. My sons have both read the entire series and have, I firmly believe, benefited from this early introduction to Shakespeare. I can remember my oldest son, Gregory, sitting giggling over the Taming of the shrew at the tender age of nine. He read it three times. Shakespeare’s plays are also now available as graphic novels. I am not a big fan of graphic novels but that is a story for another day.
I hope that the schools continue to encourage Shakespeare and our children continue to benefit from his incredible talent and to learn to appreciate his contribute to our modern language.
Follow Robbie Cheadle
Blogs: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com and