On day three of Shakespeare’s ELL we explore the Bard’s spell on the English language, the phrases he loved to use, and he provenance of popular names.
Most people think they can’t quote Shakespeare. In fact, they probably do so every day. William Shakespeare is the originator of a great many everyday expressions including ‘love is blind’ from the Merchant of Venice, ‘for goodness sake’ from Henry VIII, and ‘heart of gold’ from Henry V. He also made up words that are now part of the language: fashionable, priceless, laughable, and eventful. If the word is quirky, like yelping and grime, then it most likely can be attributed to the works of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare revolutionised the English language, and today, he is credited with inventing over 1,700 words across all his plays. He turned nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, and added suffixes and prefixes to existing words. He created words like cold-blooded, disgraceful, and ill-tempered in order to convey emotions, humour and villainy.
Shakespeare also had a preferred choice of phrases. He enjoyed repetitive language, and loved to use the same words over and over again to draw attention to certain emotions and themes. In fact, the top 1% of repeated words actually make up 66.7% of his work.
Words he enjoyed using the most include: love (appearing 2,191 times in all his work), good (appearing 2,890 times), heart (appearing 1,047 times) time (appearing 1,100 times), and sweet (appearing 840 times). Out of the grand Shakespearean vocabulary, the most commonly found word is ‘me’, which presents itself 8,043 times in all of his work. 209 of those times are just in Richard III.
Explore our interactive below to discover his favourite words (hover on a word to see how often it was used).
Ever wonder where your name came from? “What’s in a name?” after all? Well, Shakespeare invented a few names that are still popular today, including Miranda, Olivia and Jessica. Today, Olivia is the second most popular name in England with 11,890 newborns adopting the name last year. The Bard also made names like Toby, Ajax, Ariel, and Imogen fashionable for generations.
Many of the names he chose for his characters are still very popular today:
Romeo and Juliet, which was first performed in Shoreditch, has influenced modern day love stories like West Side Story, Grease, and The Notebook. Yet, despite being perhaps his most famous love story, the word “love” is only found 94 times, whereas it appears 104 times in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
In Anthony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra has the most speeches out of any leading female character in Shakespeare’s work. Yet, with 204 speeches, this is not even half of the male character Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1, 2 and Henry V Merry Wives of Windsor, whom has 471 speeches. Whether intentional or not, Shakespeare attributed far more lines to male characters than female. Only 16% of Shakespeare’s characters are women, and in most cases, these characters were played by men anyway. The lack of a strong female lead is prevalent throughout: Romeo has more speeches than Juliet; Macbeth speaks far more than his Lady; Othello certainly could have done with listening to Desdemona a little more. This gender disparity continues today, where we see only 29% of actresses accounting for the leading roles in Hollywood films.
Reporting Team: Alex Jackson, Ginger Jefferies, Emmanuella Kwenortey, Isabel Togoh
Read the other articles in the series here: