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The Influence of Shakespeare

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Across the universe of time: Shakespeare's influence on 21st century society.

It is harder to imagine a more universal writer than William Shakespeare. Rarely if ever is one of his many plays not being performed somewhere in the world and similarly rare is the tertiary English student who has not examined his work at length. His plays, sonnets and poems are common fodder for high school English departments across the globe.

Shakespeare has perhaps contributed the most to the English language of any writer known to man - literally. Over 1000 words and phrases that he coined as part of his plays and prose are now in common use across the globe. He changed nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, added on previously unheard-of prefixes and suffixes and in some cases made words out of nothing. Even culturally sensitive words such as 'ode' (The ANZACS) and scientific jargon ('epileptic') are in fact products of Shakespeare. Bernard Levin probably summed this up best when he wrote: "If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle... had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, ... - why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare;..." (Bernard Levin. From The Story of English. Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Viking: 1986).

Shakespeare's influence continues even in the world of film, not invented until several hundreds of years after his death in 1616. As well as the inevitable BBC remakes of most of his plays, newer adaptation such as Kenneth Branagh's 'Much Ado About Nothing' (starring Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington) and Baz Luhrmann's 'Romeo and Juliet' (featuring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio) have met critical acclaim and can be credited with bringing Shakespeare to a new generation not inclined to visiting theatres. The very-loosely-biographical 'Shakespeare in Love' picked up several Academy Awards after its release

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