The Influence of Shakespeare
By Jack Parry (Student at One)
‘I’m beginning to feel like a Rap God’.
It’s the twenty first century and here we are, like a sweet shop full’a candy; an English language bursting full of lexemes. Lexemes you say? Lexeme itself is a lexeme. Lexeme is the academic term for WORDS. We have our Standard English nouns, adjectives- the entire lot you learnt when you were still at primary school (even if we are guilty of still calling verbs ‘doing words’). We have our abbreviations, our slang words, our loanwords, our coinages- the list goes on. However, all the components of the English language we know and use today didn’t just spring out of nowhere or grow on trees (admittedly it would be quite cool if they did). But, in fact they have had a lengthy sustained history that may surprise you. Oh yes. One of the famous figures of English history still widely spoken of today had a mighty influence on the words and phrases that make up the English Language as we know it. In fact, approximately 1,700 of those words and phrases all stem from the brilliant brain of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Ever gotten your self in a pickle? Fair play to you. Ever had yourself in stitches so much you felt as if you would vanish into thin air? Right about now you are probably wondering what an earth I’m rambling on about. Well, the phrases highlighted amongst my questions are in fact all documented phrases from Shakespeare’s plays. The interesting thing is, out of the 2,500 words he used in his writing, MORE THAN 2,000 of them may have been invented by him. Isn’t that shamazing? However, few may doubt the proof that Shakespeare did in fact conjure up these fantastic lexemes- disappointingly none of us were sitting there watching him rack his brain for wholly new words. Thus, we must go by the fact that he was the first to document them and hence provide the earliest citation of them to date. You may liken Shakespeare to an artist; lexemes were his pallet.
So how did he do it? Unfortunately, he couldn’t whip out his iPhone 6 and ask Siri or even the newly acclaimed Google App. As ‘reem’ as Shakespeare was he couldn’t sit back and watch a bit of TOWIE on demand in the hope to coin some Estuary English, he had to do it all HIMSELF. Shocker, I know. What Shakespeare did was the process of conversion, he switched nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives and undertook the addition of suffixes and prefixes, so one big massive invent really. At the time of the final decades of the Renaissance it was certainly the right time to do it too; the Renaissance period of 1500-1700 is marked in history as a period of major change, a time when discoveries and explorations undertook huge expansion, affecting the development of the English language. Latin and Greek words were flying around everywhere so good old Shakespeare decided to coin the lot of them, well, not all of them, but certainly a large number.
I’m sure by this point you may well be struggling to decipher the relevance of the title of this article. Well, as already established the influence Shakespeare had on our language was colossal; the proof lies within the Shakespearian words and phrases still very much alive and present in our day to day language. Even as I am typing, Microsoft Word fails to give me any correction to the expression ‘Shakespearian’- that’s right, no zig-zag red line sticking out like a sore thumb. The beauty of its effect is in fact still in evidence today.
But, Shakespeare’s not around anymore you may say. Correct, however, modern day alternatives of the world renowned writer and poet have taken over in the same fashion as Shakespeare himself did.
Highly celebrated American rapper Eminem is often described and likened to that of Shakespeare. Struggling to see the similarities? ‘But Eminem looks nothing like Shakespeare’ I hear you say. This comparison is not made in a physical sense, but that of how they use words - all one million of them. In 2013, Eminem broke the world record for the amount of different words used within the same song with his single ‘Rap God’, using a total of 1,560. That’s a lot of words in six minutes, right? In fact, that’s more than I’ve used in this article alone. Eminem does exactly what Shakespeare did back in his time, he takes words, assembling them with excellence like a piece of art and publishes them to impressionable audiences around the world. His song ‘Rap God’ raked one 1050,220 views on Youtube alone, meaning every one of those have been exposed to the language and lexemes selected by him. This is similar to how Shakespeare’s works and plays would have affected his audiences. In one sentence, Eminem spouts out three brand new made up words: ‘slickety’, ‘gibbedy’ and ‘hibbedy’, and who knows what will catch on.
So there we have it. In 800 words you’ve learnt that 1,000 words still exist from a remarkable 2,000 out of 2,500 words used in Shakespeare’s plays. Bit of a mouthful? Basically Shakespeare created and coined a load of words and apparently they were a big hit! From Shakespeare’s ‘to be or not to be’ to Eminem’s ‘yackity-yack’; it is clear that both Rap God’s were and are a large influence on what we know today as the English language.