August 02, 2014

Bedazzled By The Bard


Widely regarded as the world’s greatest dramatist, the English poet, playwright and actor William Shakespeare wrote 38 plays and more than 150 sonnets, and his works have been translated into every major living language. 

Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in 1564, this year marks the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth.

In addition to his plays being studied and performed around the world, Shakespeare also left an indelible mark on the English language. His vocabulary was famously vast, at over 17,000 words around four times larger than the average educated person of the period. It is claimed that around 1,700 of these words were invented by Shakespeare himself – an absolutely staggering figure.

Hundreds of these words are still in use today. And it’s not just the sheer volume of new words that Shakespeare introduced that is surprising, but quite how modern-sounding some of them are: it’s hard to believe that “academe”, “madcap”, “obscene” and “zany” all date from the late sixteenth century (all of which can be found in Shakespeare’s early comedy, Love's Labour's Lost).

And there are many others: “bedazzled” (The Taming of the Shrew), “circumstantial” and “marketable” (both from As You Like It), “gossip” (The Comedy of Errors), “rant” (Hamlet), “equivocal” (All's Well That Ends Well), “swagger” (Henry IV, Part 2) and “fashionable” (Troilus and Cressida).

Then there are the numerous compound words that he coined – “bloodstained” (Titus Andronicus), “cold-blooded” (King John), “green-eyed” (The Merchant of Venice) – as well as countless everyday phrases such as “Mum's the word” (Henry VI, Part 2), “Vanish into thin air” (Othello), “Eaten out of house and home” (Henry V, Part 2) and "A wild goose chase" (Romeo and Juliet). And did you know that the first written instance of "Knock knock! Who's there?" comes from Act 2, Scene 3 of Macbeth?

(If you’d like to find out more about how language evolves in Shakespeare’s work, you might be interested in our BA English degree. Developed by Goldsmiths, University of London, it features a course on Shakespeare which not only examines his use of language but also the enduring nature of his art.)

By Peter Quinn

With thanks to London International

Thanks to GR for sending it to me. 

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