"A feast of languages" - how Shakespeare shaped the English language

Jan 2016
Shakespeare used a magnitude of vocabulary in his work, coining many of these words himself
Shakespeare used a magnitude of vocabulary in his work, coining many of the words himself

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death and so, throughout the year, we will be exploring his life and works to celebrate the talented playwright's legacy.

Often called the English national poet, and regarded by many as the greatest dramatist of all time, Shakespeare's works are still studied and performed around the world today. Though much of his life is shrouded in mystery (no official birthdate, seven 'lost' years), what we do know is that we are influenced by his work still.

With 37 plays and 154 sonnets under his belt, it's no wonder Shakespeare has had such an influence on the English language. His works have been translated into 80 languages, including Star Trek's Klingon!



Shakespeare used a magnitude of vocabulary in his work, coining many of the words himself. When Samuel Johnson compiled and published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755 he noted that Shakespeare had introduced thousands of words and phrases into the English language during his career. The Oxford English Dictionary has also credited Shakespeare for introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language.

Whilst Shakespeare is still studied as part of the school curriculum, many people do not realise that we quote Shakespeare on a daily basis! If you've ever been "eaten out of house and home", you are in fact quoting from Henry V. If you've ever called someone a "green-eyed monster", you can thank Shakespeare's Othello for giving you the saying. If you've ever had to tell someone "mum's the word", you're actually quoting Father John Hume from Henry VI. Below are some other examples of Shakespeare's influence over the way we speak:

"In a pickle" - The Tempest, Act 5 Scene 1
ALONSO: How camest thou in this pickle?

"There's method in my madness" - Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2
POLONIUS: (aside) Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.

"The world is your oyster" - The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2 Scene 2
PISTOL: Why, then the world's mine oyster

"Wild goose chase"Romeo and Juliet, Scene 4 Act 4
MERCUTIO: Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done…

"Break the ice"The Taming of the Shrew, Act 1 Scene 2
TRANIO: And if you break the ice and do this feat…

William Shakespeare's last known work, The Two Noble Kinsmen, was completed in 1614. Four centuries later and we are still using the words and works of Shakespeare to express ourselves every day – a testimony to the legacy he left!