One of the most influential writers throughout history
– if not the most influential writer – was William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon. That is, if you believe that he was the one who really wrote all of the plays and sonnets that are attributed to him. Let us assume, for the sake of this discussion, that William Shakespeare is the man behind the pen. Here are some of the ways he influenced society during his time and ours.
The Influence of WordsYou might think that Shakespeare simply wrote some great works and that was it. But did you know he is actually responsible for inventing many of the words in the English language? There are hundreds of words that Shakespeare is credited with creating. Words like bedroom, excitement, and even puking first appeared in one of the bard’s plays or writings. He is also believed to be the first to use the words scuffle, eyeball, and even worthless, just to name a few. In all, he may have created upwards of 1700 different words that did not exist in the English language until he used them himself in his popular works.
The Unique Style of Shakespeare
In many ways, Shakespeare’s writing style was unique for his day. The Bard of Avon did things that no other popular writer did before his time. In particular, he created characters that had inner struggles. Although characters before Shakespeare’s works had these types of struggles, Shakespeare made them known through their dialog. In Hamlet, for instance, the main character, named Hamlet (just in case you weren’t sure), has several inner conflicts, one of which involves his love for his mother. But then he also despises her because she went to bed with Hamlet’s uncle.
This play is also where we get the popular and clichéd phrase, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” This short phrase exemplifies the ultimate conflict in Hamlet’s psyche. The phrase is the opening monologue in the play and sets the stage, so to speak, for the upcoming struggles that Hamlet will face. By being part of the monologue, the audience (or reader) is made aware of what Hamlet will be dealing with in his mind, bringing out the secrets that characters typically kept before Shakespeare changed that.
Shakespeare’s Various Influences
In addition to his influences on literature throughout the centuries, Shakespeare is also believed to have influenced world events. In 1864, there was a man who appeared in one of Shakespeare’s plays – Julius Caesar. He had the role of Marc Antony and his two brothers played his onstage brothers – Brutus and Cassius. The play took place as a one-night only performance that was held to buy a Shakespeare statue to place in Central Park.
The man who played Marc Antony was John Wilkes Booth. Does that name resonate like a shot in the head? Remember what Marc Antony did? He killed the leader of a nation. Remember what John Wilkes Booth did? He also murdered the leader of a nation. Coincidence? Maybe…maybe not.
Was Shakespeare Edgy in His Day?
If Shakespeare was around today, he might be considered one of the edgier writers around. He would be like the Chris Rock or [insert name of edgy comedian here] of the day because he did not mind being controversial. One of the main ways that Shakespeare was edgy was the way that he portrayed different races. During a time when black characters played roles that were little more than comic relief used for ridicule, Shakespeare made them complex and intricate.
Othello, for instance, is believed to have been a black character, although some scholars see his race as being ambiguous. Either way, Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters as his life ends in a murder/suicide. Othello’s officer, Iago, makes Othello believe that his wife was cheating on him. As a result [spoiler alert], Othello kills his wife, only to find out that she was faithful the entire time. In his grief, Othello kills himself.
Another controversial topic that Shakespeare handled was that of strong women. During his time, playwrights and writers did not create particularly strong female characters. The typical female characters in plays in those days were demure and did not have much of an impact on the storyline or plot. But Shakespeare defied those conventions. In Hamlet, for instance, Queen Gertrude marries Claudius just a short time after her husband dies. Marrying another man so soon opened her up for ridicule amongst the people she ruled over, but Shakespeare uses this female-centered plot throughout the story.
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Painting Pictures with Words
Finally, Shakespeare influenced future writing with the way he painted pictures using only his words. There are probably hundreds of examples of this in his writings. One such example occurs in Macbeth. In this popular play, the following line paints a vivid portrait in just a few words: “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.”
He also expressed the feeling of love unlike any writer had ever done before. Passages like “The prize of all too precious you” and “The very instant that I saw you, did / My heart fly to your service” showcase Shakespeare’s feelings about love in such a way that other writers could not accomplish. From words to descriptions and even major world events, William Shakespeare is one of the most influential people in modern history. After more than 500 years, scholars, students, and even passive readers are drawn to his works for several reasons. Will his influences continue to be felt 500 years from now?