English has changed a lot on the course of history due to its heavy-borrower nature and if one could go back and travel in time to see the changes that the language has undergone, he would be surprised and maybe not even find similarity between those English’s. Change has happened due to different factors like time itself, literature, history, tradition and location of a specific country. A major influence and famous change have of course happened by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare did not just write plays for English Literature, but also contributed in a lot of other fields in English Literature that helped to complete the English Literature picture the way it is.
Shakespeare lived during Renaissance (1300-1600) period which was part of the Middle Ages. Renaissance, means rebirth, a word originated from the French. It is a time in European history that led to the beginning of classical learning and knowledge. This period was a changeover from the Middle Ages into the modern world. The interesting part of this movement is that it united academic, cultural, social, and political characteristics into one.
This movement began when the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire failed in providing the people with a stable spiritual and material life and as a result of this, major changes took place which included the rise of national monarchies and their own languages. In general, the idea behind humanism is that humans are reborn with a new spirit, knowledge and ability to explore their potential thinking. This can only be achieved through breaking mental boundaries caused by religion. This indication spread very fast with the help of the printing press which had gotten invented around that time.
Shakespeare’s influence was unique when it came to drama due to his broad range of vocabulary and how he applied them excellently. He brought the English language to a very prestigious phase after being seen for years as a disdainful language. His sonnets specifically display a brilliant verbal performance with images layered one on top of another in a sensory kind of collection.
In the early 16th century, The English language was not highly valued. It was rather seen as a language spoken day-to-day by the lower-caste society due to it sounding and lacking the sophistication that foreign languages required. Therefore, it was not used at schools. Children were taught Latin and Greek in schools because they were the default languages for scholarly and religious communication. English was not perfect for literature. It was simply a language of the streets.
In the mid-16th century, everything was slowly changing. English started developing as a respectable means of communication with the help of many factors. For example, the learning rates were increasing which meant that many people were excited to learn how to read and write.
Writing in English became a symbol of growing patriotism. Moreover, every man that was William Shakespeare is notorious for having enriched and expanded the vocabulary of the English language.i He could achieve this because he was good at inventing new words. Shakespeare was mostly very skillful at borrowing words from Latin and changing them. He did this by maintaining the stem that belongs to one language and the prefix or suffix to the other. Examples of these words are accommodation, fixture, pious, generous and so on. Through his borrowings, it is said that he introduced roughly 600 words into English language.ii The thing about expanding a language is that some old words will gain new meanings and others not. Moreover, some of the new words will stick around while others will fade away. This is something that is predisposed to happen and quite a few of Shakespeare’s words, for example, crimeless, insisture, primy, unsisting, etc. happened to disappear as the English language continued to develop. This was the process which led the English language slowly going towards standardization.
A lot has been stated so far regarding William Shakespeare’s impact on the English language, but how would the world have been without his impact? English most likely would have expanded and been standardized at a much later point. So, eventually, the words that Shakespeare had invented, would have been invented by someone else. However, it is unquestionable that without Shakespeare, the language would not be the same today. Shakespeare is known for having been experimental and as a result of that, he invented many everyday words and phrases. Without him, we would have to find alternatives for terminologies and expressions such as “bump”, “bedroom”, “alligator”, “castigate”, “fair play”, “a laughing stock”, “knock, knock, who’s there?”, etc.iii
Another important aspect would be that our impression of how a writer should be, would be different. Usually, when it comes to writing, there is only Shakespeare, because there is no one in comparison to him unlike. Shakespeare’s soliloquies are known for being when a figure explores his/her personality, motivations, and ambitions. If you take him away, a lot of parts of the English language would be disappeared. Maybe someone else would have invented all these things, but it is undisputable that it would have taken longer.
To sum it up, after the Renaissance, the English literature was reborn and slowly started rising to one of the world’s best languages because it finally gained the superiority it had been lacking for a long time. The fact that people became more educated was a great assistance as more writing was done, there was a need to standardize the language. William Shakespeare is one of the authors that helped to accelerate and ease this process. I think it is very important for people to generally know that he did not just write plays that English speaking natives do not even understand but is responsible for having invented a good percentage of their everyday English words. As a result he invented lots of vocabularies that helped to broaden the English language. His newly invented words and phrases were also a factor that helped in quickening the process of standardizing the English language.
In spite of the fact that William Shakespeare has been dead for more than two centuries, he conveyed the English language to its existing standard and is still influencing a lot of up- coming film producers and writers based on how phenomenal his writing style and character development was. He may be dead, but his works and legacy still exists carrying his soul inside. His plays will always come across to the latest generation but without them, English would not have advanced as it did. Some other person would have probably tripped upon the words that he invented. Though, it is undoubtable that it would have been prolonged, and that English might not have moved forward up to this level.
- Frye Mushat Roland (2005) ‘Shakespeare’, Routledge, p.118
- Hussey S.S. (1992) ‘The Literary Language of Shakespeare’, 2nd edition, London (Longman Group UK Limited), p. 12-13
- Dickson, A. (2009). ‘The Rough Guide to Shakespeare’ (J. Staines, Ed.) Rough Guides Limited.