Monday, April 18, 2011
Shakespeare's Influence on English Language
Shakespeare's Influence on English Language
The English language has been in constant transition throughout its history, but the most significant transformation in modern English can be credited to William Shakespeare. With Shakespeare’s invention of commonly used expressions, his creation of new words, and his use of iambic pentameter, he was able to affect the language in a way that no person since has. Shakespeare’s influence on modern English is not only visible in everyday speech, but also in the fact that his work has survived over four hundred years and it continues to be performed and read worldwide. Shakespeare introduced nearly 3,000 words into the English language. In addition, Shakespeare's works, which were often quoted, became such commonplace that they helped set the standards for Modern English; prior to Shakespeare, English grammar and spelling had few standards. In addition, many of Shakespeare's expressions are commonly used today.
Early Modern English as a literary medium was unfixed in structure and vocabulary in comparison to Greek and Latin, and was in a constant state of flux. When William Shakespeare began writing his plays, the English language was rapidly absorbing words from other languages due to wars, exploration, diplomacy and colonization---but many writers lacked the vocabulary to express such ideas. To accommodate, writers such as Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare expressed new ideas and distinctions by inventing, borrowing or adopting a word or a phrase from another language, known as neologizing. Scholars estimate that, between the years 1500 and 1659, nouns, verbs and modifiers of Latin, Greek and modern Romance languages added 30,000 new words to the English language. However Warren King clarifies by saying that, "In all of his work - the plays, the sonnets and the narrative poems - Shakespeare uses 17,677 words: Of those, 1,700 were first used by Shakespeare." Shakespeare’s contribution to the expansion of the English language was commented on as early as 1598, when commentator Francis Meres, applauding English literature in relation to the classics, placed Shakespeare among the writers who had dignified the language.] He expanded the scope of English literature by introducing new words and phrases, experimenting with blank verse, and also introducing new poetic and grammatical structures. "Before the arrival of Shakespeare to London, there was little hope for the future of English but by 1613, when Shakespeare's last work was written, the literature of modern English was already rich in varied achievements, self confident and mature"[Borris Ford, ed (1955). The Age of Shakespeare. Great Britain].
He created these words by, "changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original. For example, Caesar is able to say: 'The wild disguise has almost anticked us all.' An antic is a fool, which is a noun. Shakespeare turns it into a verb 'to make a fool of.' English was being set free to go where writers wanted to take it in their poetry. In Love's Labours Lost he is able to exploit multiple meanings of one word to create a sentence like 'Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile.' - 'intellect,' 'wisdom,' 'eyesight' and 'daylight'. Here are some of the most popular Shakespeare phrases in common use today:A laughing stock (The Merry Wives of Windsor);A sorry sight (Macbeth) ;As dead as a doornail (Henry VI) ;Eaten out of house and home (Henry V, Part 2) ;Fair play (The Tempest) ;I will wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello) ;In a pickle (The Tempest) ‘In stitches (Twelfth Night) ;In the twinkling of an eye (The Merchant Of Venice) ;Neither here nor there (Othello) ;Send him packing (Henry IV) ;There's method in my madness (Hamlet) ;Too much of a good thing (As You Like It) ‘Vanish into thin air (Othello).
In The Story of English, Bernard Levin writes that “if [the reader] cannot understand my argument, and [declares] ‘It's Greek to me’, you are quoting Shakespeare” ------if one recalls his salad days, he is quoting Shakespeare; if one acts more in sorrow than in anger, if his wish is father to the thought, if his lost property has vanished into thin air, he is quoting Shakespeare; if a man has been tongue-tied, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), if he has seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise – Shakespeare is alive again. Shakespeare also invented many of the most-used expressions in our language. Bernard Levin skillfully summarizes Shakespeare's impact in the following passage from The Story of English: “if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then .......you are quoting Shakespeare.”
He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original. At the below SOURCE is a chart listing some of the words Shakespeare coined, like beginning of the end ,breathe one's last ,bubble reputation,green-eyed monster ,milk of human kindness ,much ado about nothing ,neither rhyme nor reason ,pride of place, remembrance of things past ,sea change etc.
Shakespeare's first plays were experimental as he was still learning from his own mistakes. It was a long journey from Titus Andronicus and King Henry VI to The Tempest. Gradually his language followed the "natural process of artistic growth, to find its adequate projection in dramatic form"."Shakespeare's blank verse is one of the most important of all his influences on the way the English language was written".] He used the blank verse throughout in his writing career experimenting and perfecting it. The free speech rhythm gave Shakespeare more freedom for experimentation. Expressing emotions and situations in form of a verse gave a natural flow to language with an added sense of flexibility and spontaneity.
He introduced in poetry two main factors - "verbal immediacy and the moulding of stress to the movement of living emotion". Shakespeare's words reflected passage of time with "fresh, concrete vividness" giving the reader an idea of the time frame. His remarkable capacity to analyze and express emotions in simple words was noteworthy:"When my love swears that she is made of truth,/I do believe her, though I know she lies-"—(Sonnet CXXXVIII) here he has expressed in very simple words "complex and even contradictory attitudes to a single emotion".Complex human emotions found simple expressions in Shakespeare's language.In addition to adding an incredible amount to the language, Shakespeare’s work offered a reflection on the language itself through his use of iambic pentameter in his verse. Some of Shakespeare’s most memorable lines have been written in iambic pentameter. For example, the opening line in one of Shakespeare’s most renowned plays, Romeo and Juliet, reads “Two households both alike in dignity” (I, i, 1).
Shakespeare influenced novelists such as Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner, and Charles Dickens. The American novelist Herman Melville’s monologues owe much to Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s work is in constant use yet is hardly ever given credit for its incredible contribution to the English language. He took the language of the time, varied it, sculpted it, and reflected upon it through his articulate and expressive plays and sonnets. Shakespeare’s impact on the English language may never have facsimile, but we will always have his profound and eloquent writings, so, as the bard says, “all’s well that end’s well.”