The greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare, was born on this day in 1564. He died on the same day 52 years later in 1616.
Besides the date of his birth and death, we know little about Shakespeare’s life. Here is a brief timeline of key events:
1564 Born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, 100 miles north of London
1582 Married to Anne Hathaway on November 28th
1583 Daughter Susanna is born
1585 Twins Judith and Hamnet are born
approx. 1591 Travels to London, works as an actor
1596 Eleven-year-old Hamnet dies
1513 Globe Theatre burns and Shakespeare retires to Stratford.
1616 Dies in Stratford-Upon-Avon
Shakespeare is clearly the most successful playwright who ever lived, but his influence reaches well beyond just his plays. His writing literally transformed the English language. If you want to see what the birth of the universe looked like you can read an account in Genesis, Chapter 1; if you want to see what the birth of words looks like, read the plays of Shakespeare.
According to linguist David Crystal, of the 17,677 words in the collected works of Shakespeare, approximately 1,700 (10%) can be identified as neologisms — that is invented words (1).
Here is a small sample of words first recorded in Shakespeare, according to David Crystal in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language:
accommodation, assassination, barefaced, countless, courtship, dislocate, dwindle, eventful, fancy-free, lack-luster, laughable, premeditated, submerged
In addition to individual words, there are countless common expressions that first appear in the works of Shakespeare:
There’s the rub from ‘Hamlet’
It’s Greek to me from ‘Julius Caesar’
At one fell swoop from ‘Macbeth’
Every inch a king from ‘King Lear’
Play fast and loose from ‘Love’s Labor Lost’
What’s in a name? from ‘Romeo and Juliet’
Paint the lily from ‘King John’
Too much of a good thing from ‘As You Like It’
Give the devil his due from ‘I Henry IV’
Although we know few specifics about Shakespeare’s education, we can make some guesses based on what we know about education in the 16th century England. According to writer Simon Callow, the main topic of study was grammar – not English grammar, but Latin grammar:
Grammar school was tough. . . .They didn’t study history, they didn’t study mathematics, they didn’t study geography, they didn’t study science. They studied grammar, from dawn to dusk, six days a week, all the year round. Grammar – Latin grammar. They translated from Latin into English and from English into Latin. At school, ordinary conversation was in Latin; any boy caught speaking English was flogged. And they mastered the tropes of rhetoric, from antimetabole (where words are repeated in inverse order) to zeugma (where one verb looks after two nouns). This is the language of power and politics: of the law, of Parliament, of the court, and this is the world of which young Will and his fellow pupils would soon, it was hoped, be part.
Today’s Challenge: A Novel Opening
Who are the most memorable characters from Shakespeare’s plays? If you were to inhabit the mind of one of these characters, writing his or her story in first person, which character would you choose? Select your favorite character from Shakespeare and re-imagine his or her story as if it were a novel written in first person by the character. Write the opening 250 words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)
Quotation of the Day: From a selection of his other works, we might think him variously courtly, cerebral, metaphysical, melancholic, Machiavellian, neurotic, light hearted, loving, and much more. Shakespeare was of course all these things—as a writer. We hardly know what he was as a person. -Bill Bryson
1-Shakespeare’s Genius in Creating Words. https://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A76533195#back1