Today marks the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birthday. Although in truth, the only date we know as a fact is his baptism on 26 April 1564. To you Shakespeare may be the greatest writer in the English language – or the scourge of your schooldays. Whichever it is, once you see his plays, the words come to life and the message is powerful.
Yet who could write as well as Shakespeare? Of course practice helps. He had an impressive work rate, producing almost 40 plays, and over 150 sonnets and poems. But his great gift was to understand people’s emotions, to create compelling stories and match these with strong characters, all portrayed with a pithy, illuminating phrase or two – many of which he’d invented himself to suit the purpose. Not a bad lesson for today’s writer, whether writing a play, an advertising campaign or a hardworking customer newsletter.
Successful writing pays attention to:
- Human emotions
- Word choice and flow
Many words and phrases in common use today were coined by Shakespeare. He was a master of mixing things up, with new word-blends, the addition of prefixes or suffixes, words borrowed from other languages or new word uses such as using verbs as nouns.
Take a look at these:
- 13 words you probably didn’t know were invented by Shakespeare from the Huffington Post
- 20 words we owe to William Shakespeare from Roma Panganiban at Mental Floss
- 13 everyday phrases that actually came from Shakespeare according to Christina Sterbenz at Business Insider
Shakespeare was a master of his craft. His influence on the English language was huge. This Bernard Levin quote from ‘The Story of English’, makes the point:
“If you cannot understand my argument, and declare “It’s Greek to me”, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise – why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare…”
Levin was on a roll. There’s much more. But the point is made. Shakespeare has left a literary legacy. His words are powerful. Words endure.