A Literary Revolutionary: William Shakespeare

June 18, 2012
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Underneath the luminous glow of the spotlight, the play’s lead actor passionately recites Hamlet’s monologue before a packed house. The captivated audience members sit on the edge of their seats, excited to hear the most renowned monologue in the world. Undoubtedly, William Shakespeare, the writer of this play, is recognized as the most masterful playwright and poet to have ever lived. Besides inventing 1,700 common words, he had influenced novelists, poets, psychologists, movie visionaries, directors, and artists alike. As a true pioneer of his time, Shakespeare introduced a never-before-seen world of powerful poetry and plays, and his lasting legacy made his name a symbol of language and literature for ages to come.

Obviously, Shakespeare’s most revered work included his series of thirty-seven plays written between 1589 and 1613. These plays were established in three separate periods. Beginning in the 1590’s, Shakespeare entered his first period, in which he wrote several historical dramas, such as Henry VI and Richard III. Emphasizing the destructive and dramatic results of weak and corrupt rule, these plays also included themes of conflict over power between two political rivals. Conventional and standard, Shakespeare’s early writing stage was not fully stylized. On the contrary, he introduced complex metaphors, witty prose, rhetorical language, and elaborate poetry.

In the mid-1590’s, Shakespeare completed his most radical comedies, which were heavily influenced by the Italianate and Renaissance periods. For these plays, he usually used double-plots, comedic deception, separation, reunification, mistaken identity, intertwining plots, struggles for young lovers, and matrimony. Examples of these elements included A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. However, these lyrical ideas soon gave way to deeper, more tragic plays that switched between light humor and sinister suspense, such as Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. Overall, he began to combine traditional and freer styles, and his writing became more passionate and dramatic, especially during dialogue and monologue.

Controversially, Shakespeare’s most renowned plays were written in his final period, when he began to produce tragedies in the 1600’s. These violent, sorrowful stories, such as Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, all shared similar themes. Specifically, hasty errors of judgment, betrayal, jealousy, distrust, unwise decisions, fatal flaws, and hesitation led to the dramatic downfall of Shakespeare’s characters. His series of brilliant tragedies eventually faded into his final works before retirement, such as Cymbeline, Pericles, and The Tempest, examples of tragicomedies. By definition, tragicomedies were a combination of comedy, romance, and occasionally tragedy. Often, Shakespeare coupled these themes with magical elements, redemptive plots, festivity, and reunification. By this time, traditional styles had completely morphed into a unique, high-impact style, with extreme run-on lines and powerful metaphors and similes. Surely, Shakespeare’s profound literature and poetical works have become practically immortal; his awe-inspiring plays have lasted the test of time, and are still widely appreciated in the modern world.

Besides employing his talents as an accomplished playwright, Shakespeare was an eminent poet and sonneteer throughout his writing career. From 1592 to 1598, he began writing a form of verse known as a sonnet, and 154 were published by 1609. English sonnets were fourteen line paragraphs with a strict rhyme scheme and a specific structure. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s sonnets were often about the topics of love, the nature of time, procreation, and the inevitability of death. For instance, in Sonnet 29, the speaker of the poem envied the talents and successes of others, and then realized that his love more than made up for all he lacked. Sonnet 15, on the other hand, addressed time as a natural power of force and authority, with nearly human characteristics. Additionally, several verses emphasized the importance of fathering children in order to immortalize oneself through offspring. In brief, these inimitable sonnets reflected on Shakespeare’s deepest beliefs, fears, and passions, and they were said to mirror his soul.

Even after his death, Shakespeare’s works continued to form a lasting impression on subsequent literary composition, art, media, and even psychology. From Coleridge to Tennyson, he influenced most romantic poets, and even novelists Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner, Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville were strongly impacted by Shakespeare’s dramatic writing style. Even noted psychologist Sigmund Freud drew on his characters; he frequently used Hamlet and Macbeth for his theories on the human psyche. To add on, numerous artists and sculptors created works of art modeled after scenes and characters in his plays. Moreover, inspired movie, opera, and musical directors repeatedly modernized his plays’ plots to create popular media.

Most importantly, Shakespeare greatly advanced and modernized the English dialect, applying his ingenuity to expanding language. In particular, he devised over 1,700 commonly used words by adding suffixes, prefixes, changing nouns into verbs, transforming verbs into nouns, combining words, or completely inventing them. Several examples included amazement, assassination, gloomy, lonely, radiance, submerge, and suspicious. Astonishingly, he also created hundreds of familiar phrases and sayings, such as “All that glitters isn’t gold,” “It’s Greek to me,” “Catch a cold,” “Eat out of house and home,” “Break the ice,” and “Too much of a good thing.” From shaping other inspiring figures to revolutionizing the modern language, Shakespeare’s legacy will undoubtedly live on for all time.

To conclude, Shakespeare’s endless contributions to the fields of poetry and playwriting, paired with his longstanding legacy, have ensured him a permanent place in history. Besides writing a phenomenal number of profound plays, he produced a variety of brilliant sonnets and poems that surpassed all others. Consequently, these admired works deeply affected and influenced the people and language of the past, present, and no doubt the future. To summarize, there is definitely no argument as to why Shakespeare’s immortal legacy or lasting literary works have never been and never will be matched; as critics once praised, “he was not of an age, but for all time!”





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