“What would thou write of me, if thou shouldst praise me?”
~Desdemona, Othello


Ever been in a Romeo and Juliet relationship? Had a boss like King Lear? Asked yourself “To be or not to be – that is the question,” and realized that it isn’t a question at all?

Just remembering these references makes one consider how much of an impact the Elizabethan playwright and poet William Shakespeare has had on society.

With some examination, it’s amazing to see just what a superstar Shakespeare was to the English language, with a lasting legacy from the sixteenth century to the present day.


Actor First, Writer Later

Many scholars have noted that while he was certainly a prolific writer, Shakespeare earned most of his income as an actor. Like Nobel Prize winning playwright Harold Pinter almost five centuries later, Shakespeare was a noted thespian that appeared in several of his own plays.

Many have theorized that this, coupled with his ability as a poet, is what gave his writing its distinct lyrical quality. Shakespeare understood the kind of language actors needed to perform a decent play.


Spotlight on my Words

Academics have also noted that Shakespeare’s great contribution to drama was his use of the soliloquy. This is where the actor is on stage and recites a monologue, often alone and to the audience.

Today it’s common to have soliloquies in drama, but it’s also interesting to note how many popular phrases originated from Shakespeare’s soliloquies and are used in commercials and TV shows.


Social Subtexts

The old adage that good drama involves conflict might come from Shakespeare, and it’s interesting that many of Shakespeare’s best plays have important social contexts.

The racial politics of Othello and the violent inter-clan conflicts of Romeo and Juliet resonate in today’s world, where some of these issues still exist in great and often aggressive abundance.


So Many Characters

The scheming Iago, the impulsive Mercutio, the vengeful Shylock, the love-starved couple of Benedick and Beatrice...the one thing Shakespeare’s best characters have in common is that they are unforgettable.

Shakespeare’s plays are full of characters that audiences will always remember. Everything that has memorable heroes and villains, from modern comic books to video games, owe some of their characterizations to Shakespeare.


It was Shakespeare All Along

Many English students don’t understand why Shakespeare is compulsory, especially in secondary school; why study a writer from so long ago? But they don’t have to look far to see Shakespeare’s influence in the modern world, and studying his work will strengthen their vocabulary and knowledge of language.

Here are just a few examples:

Modern Film or Production

Original Play

Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare  Danes

Romeo and Juliet

Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, The Bad Sleep Well, and Ran

Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear

10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles

The Taming of the Shrew

Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story

Romeo and Juliet

Disney’s The Lion King



Other modern examples that are influenced by Shakespeare are Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, and Pytor Tchaikovsky’s symphony of Romeo and Juliet.  

You might be interested in improving your own English skills for better vocabulary and writing – maybe you too can be a master of the English language like Shakespeare. If so, check out The Language Gallery’s elective classes to see what study options can help you achieve your goals.