The Immortality of Shakespeare

Born in April 1564, in Stratford to John and Mary Shakespeare, William Shakespeare was regarded as one of the most prominent writers in English Language. His works are so eminent till date that all of Uranus’ satellites are named after his characters! Throughout his lifetime, Shakespeare wrote a total of 198 pieces, which included his 38 plays, plus poems and sonnets. And after all these centuries, people are still reading and performing his work. The immortal nature of his work can be attributed to the timeless themes in his plays and his mastery of language use.

Timeless Themes

The characters in Shakespeare’s works are often incredibly real and vibrant. One of UTSA’s notable literary scholars, Alan Craven, commented on this saying,

That is exactly the way Shakespeare intended for his plays to be experienced. [He] wanted audiences to react. He wanted people to cheer and boo at his characters.

Through these vibrant characters, Shakespeare explored themes of love, war, bravery, justice, treachery, political intrigue, loss, conspiracy, to name a few. Almost all these themes can be relevant to this day. A fantastic example of a still relevant play, with elements of greed, ambition and jealousy, is Macbeth. Although the settings, characterizations, etc are wildly different from what we see in modern society or literature, the story lines and themes are such that they can be adapted to any time. It is these modern adaptations and reinterpretations that makes Shakespeare timeless. The animation Gnomeo and Juliet is based (surprise) on Romeo and Juliet, She’s The Man is based on Twelfth Night, 10 Things I Hate About You is adapted based on The Taming of The Shrew… the list is long.

Language Use

The universality and timelessness of his themes alone does not account for the persistence of his popularity today. His masterful use of language and his contribution to it is arguably unparalleled. During his time, there were no fixed grammatical rules of the English language. Shakespeare’s work contributed greatly to the standardization of English. He also had a very extensive vocabulary. The common agreement is that he has written more than 30,000 different words in all of his plays combined. He is also known to have introduced many new English words. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has even verified his impressive expressions of the English language.

We all use Shakespeare-coined phrases regularly in our conversations without even realizing it. “It’s Greek to me”, “all that glitters isn’t gold”, “break the ice”, “a laughing stock” and “fair play” were first seen in Julius Caesar, Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Tempest respectively.

The list of other interesting words that were supposedly “invented or coined by Shakespeare” includes terms such as:

Auspicious– favorable; promising success; a good omen. A wedding is an example of an auspicious occasion.

  • Baseless– without a foundation; not based on fact.
  • Castigate– to punish harshly.
  • Dwindle– to get smaller; diminish.
  • Multitudinous– a lot; a great number.
  • Sanctimonious– pretending to be very religious or righteous.
  • Watchdog– a person or group that keeps close watch to discover wrong or illegal activity.

Whether we realize it or not, the influence of Shakespeare’s works persists to this day, and will continue to do so indefinitely. It’s high time we all recognize his contribution to the many aspects of our lives… from the very language we speak daily, to our cinemas and theaters, and our literature.

By Marielyn Selvarajah