“Be not afraid of greatness;
some are born great,
some achieve greatness,
and others have greatness
thrust upon them”
In his time, William Shakespeare though well-known, was an ordinary playwright with no greatness thrust upon him, but he is considered by many to be the greatest playwright that ever lived.
Every year at this time, special events are held in Stratford-upon-Avon to mark his birthday, which is on 23rd April. But this year, it’s even more special, because it will be his 450th birthday. He was born in 1564 and died in 1616, at the age of 51.
Why do we celebrate the works of this writer more than any other? Maybe it’s because the plots, dialogue and the very nature of his plays are written in such a way that we can relate to them 450 years later. Maybe the language has dated – we don’t say ‘wherefore art thou’ any more – but the wit and humour are still very relevant nowadays.
I fell in love with his plays while I was still at school. My English teacher Miss Brierley passed her passion for all things Shakespearean on to her pupils, and we studied them avidly. It is sad to hear young people say they find Shakespeare’s works boring, as I feel they are missing out on one of the greatest treasures of English literature. His works are studied around the world and translated into many languages.
Another reason to celebrate all things Shakespearean is the fact that he coined so many of the words and phrases that we still use today.
We might complain when a noun is turned into a verb, such as ‘actioned’ or ’impacted’ but there’s nothing new about this. Shakespeare invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together and adding prefixes and suffixes, as well as inventing original words. Some of the words he introduced: champion, eyeball, addiction, moonbeam, premeditated, gloomy, lonely, radiance, cold-blooded, madcap, remorseless, generous, majestic, unreal, grovel, lustrous, advertising, assassination and gnarled.
His phrases have proved to be just as useful. Here are just a few: fair play, in a pickle, love is blind, greeneyed monster, midsummer madness, wild goose chase, more fool you, salad days, sea change, primrose path, foregone conclusion, pound of flesh and a fool’s paradise.
So you see, our language would be very much poorer if it weren’t for the genius of the Bard.