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How does Shakespeare influence the way we understand English today?

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By Sana Haidary


The way we speak and understand the English language is different than it was in the 16-17th century. It has evolved with new vocabulary or pronunciations as well as how we interpret past experiences from what we read about them, hence the understanding of literature. Being able to empathize with a group of characters written on a page is categorical and, from a student’s perspective, a necessary skill. Additionally, the ability to sense themes and messages opens us up to another way of thinking.

As a species, we evolve every day. Without that timestamp that literature gives us, we would know nothing about the past. The English Renaissance saw thousands of Greek and Latin-based words enter the language. This occurred via the Italian Renaissance and was greatly helped by English poets, authors, and playwrights, especially Elizabethan-era playwright William Shakespeare. When you read Shakespeare’s work, it holds a deeper interpretation of the historic English culture and values. It teaches us about how the Renaissance viewed different aspects such as women’s role or how a patriarchal government or kingdom evolved.

Shakespeare wrote about themes such as life and death, youth versus age, love and hate, fate and free will. With the constantly changing world we live in today, these themes are perhaps more relevant than they have ever been. o compare and contrast the evolution of thinking 400 years laterhelps us understand how past literature has affected how we write now. By listening to the words of Shakespeare through his characters, we have learned how individuals during his era think.

Other effects of Shakespeare that we use more commonly today are new vocabulary words. With the way we talk now, we have started to come up with new words with different meanings in different situations. It was the same with Shakespeare. He was said to have created 1,700 new english words and phrases. Imagine how words like “bedroom” or “gossip” or even “lonely” are so commonly used by us were invented by him by combining words, changing nouns into verbs, adding prefixes or suffixes. Some common phrases we use often, “All that glitters is not gold.” (Merchant of Venice). Or “green-eyed monster” (Othello) is also derived from him. The introduction of new words, as well as phrases, had greatly enriched the English language, making it more expressive and colorful.

Furthermore, he also helped develop and understand different literary techniques and elements. Shakespeare often uses imagery to add emphasis to a particular idea. In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses imagery to set the tone of a passage, provide contrast and irony to scenes, and help to display character. Shakespeare applies the imagery of clothing, darkness, and blood in an exceptional manner to describe his play. Each one of these is an important symbol. They add to a complete understanding of a passage or the play as a whole.

So, yes: Shakespeare is still relevant today. We learn and develop and understand the English language and literature throughout the years. And with the years to come, it may keep changing. We may struggle to understand his work, the sentence formations, and words we have never come across in our day, but his work has remarkably impacted literature to this day.