Language and relevance

Find out how Shakespeare influenced the English language with his writing style.

Childhood and family

Shakespeare was a very creative writer: he invented many new words and had a lasting influence on the English language. The plays contain more than 17,000 individual words, and about ten per cent of those were entirely new words. Some of them were not adopted by other speakers of English, but many were. 'Eyeball', 'puking' and 'hobnob' are all examples. You probably use words invented by Shakespeare every day.

Shakespeare is the most quoted writer in English of all time, and he is also the most translated. His plays have been translated into over 80 languages, including some into Klingon (the language spoken by the fictional Klingons in Star Trek)! Other writers have borrowed from Shakespeare ever since the plays were first published. There are many novels which draw their titles from his work, and modern film adaptations which are based on his plays are very common. It seems as if Shakespeare captured something in the way he wrote and told stories.

Did you know?

Shakespeare invented many phrases that we still use today. These sayings all come from different Shakespeare plays – do you know what they mean?

  • All that glitters is not gold [not everything that looks pretty is worth much] (The Merchant of Venice)
  • As dead as a doornail [very dead] (Henry VI Part 2)
  • Foul play [cheating or behaving badly to win] (Several, inc Macbeth)
  • In the ‘mind’s eye’ [seeing something in your imagination] (Hamlet)
  • In the twinkling of an eye [very quickly] (Merchant of Venice, but also based on a phrase in the Bible)
  • Salad days [youth – when you are young and green!] (Antony and Cleopatra)
  • Wild goose chase [to go hunting after something you can’t catch, so to waste time] (Romeo and Juliet)

And one phrase more famously associated with Sherlock Holmes also comes from Shakespeare’s plays – the game is afoot.