Shakespeare’s Effect on
the English Language
• 12,000 words entered the language
between 1500 and 1650 (about ½ of
them still in use today)
• Shakespeare coined 2,035 words
(Hamlet alone has 600 new words).
A small sampling:
– Bloody, hurry, generous, impartial, road, critical,
frugal, dwindle, extract, horrid, vast, excellent,
eventful, assassination, lonely, suspicious,
indistinguishable, well-read, zany, countless
• Shakespeare’s phrases are now our clichés:
– into thin air, in a pickle, budge an inch, cold comfort,
flesh and blood, foul play, cruel to be kind, pomp and
circumstance, catch a cold, heart of gold, method in
his madness, too much of a good thing, break the ice,
dead as a doornail, good riddance, love is blind, wear
my heart upon my sleeve, wild-goose chase, the
world's my oyster, for goodness' sake
Shakespeare’s Writing Style
• Poetry vs. Prose
• Prose -form of language which applies
ordinary grammatical structure and
natural flow of speech rather than
rhythmic structure
– See letter to Lady Macbeth (I.v)
• Shakespeare uses prose for 2 reasons:
– Lower status
– Familiar relationship
Iambic Pentameter
The poetic form used by Shakespeare is
Iambic Pentameter: rhythmical pattern of syllables
– Iambic: rhythm goes from unstressed syllable to a stressed one. Rhythmic
examples: “divine” “caress” “bizarre”
Like a heartbeat: daDUM daDUM
Each iamb is called a foot
• There are other rhythms. I.e., trochaic = DUMda
– Pentameter = the rhythm is repeated 5 times – each line is 10 syllables:
The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’er-leap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires!
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
Shakespeare, will sometimes end iambic pentameter on an unstressed syllable,
so that the last foot sounds like this: daDUMda.
– To be, or not to be, that is the question.
– Is this a dagger which I see before me
Blank Verse
• Blank Verse = unrhymed iambic
• Used with “noble” characters
• Macbeth’s soliloquy
• Exceptions:
– Rhyming couplets often at the end of
monologues/scenes, used for emphasis
• Averaging out all of Shakespeare’s plays,
they were made up of about 70% blank verse,
5% rhymed verse, and 25% prose.
Try this: THE WEIRD SISters, HAND in HAND,
POSters OF the SEA and LAND,
PEACE! the CHARM'S WOUND UP (Act 1 Scene 3)
Why would Shakespeare used a different meter for supernatural characters.
Is the rhythm more chant-like? More spooky?
Elizabethan Age – Jacobean Age
• Shakespeare gains his notoriety during a
time when theatre is flourishing – the
Elizabethan Age.
• Named after Queen Elizabeth I, who
reigns until 1603.
• King James I reigns during the rest of
Shakespeare’s life. Shakespeare writes
Macbeth in 1606 to honor the King.
Elizabethan Age – Jacobean Age
• Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) – Daughter of Henry VIII
and Anne Boleyn. Protestant. The Virgin Queen.
– Takes throne from Mary I (aka Bloody Mary), a Catholic who
executed Protestants in large numbers.
• Elizabeth I firmly establishes the Church of England
(begun by her father)-Protestant
• England emerges as the leading naval and commercial
power of the Western world. Elizabeth I's England
consolidates its position with the defeat of the Spanish
Armada in 1588.
• Elizabeth names James VI of Scotland to take the
• Takes the crown as James I, and rules from 1603-1625. 9
Elizabethan Age
• At this time, London was the heart of England, reflecting all
the vibrant qualities of the Elizabethan Age. London
became a leading center of culture as well as commerce.
Its dramatists and poets were among the leading literary
artists of the day.
• London in the 16th century underwent a transformation. Its
population grew 400% from 1500 to 1600, swelling to
nearly two hundred thousand people in the city proper and
outlying region by the time an immigrant from Stratford
came to town. A rising merchant middle class was carving
out a productive livelihood, and the economy was booming.
Elizabethan Theatres
• Flowering of theatre. The Renaissance (rebirth) grew from
England’s medieval theatre of mystery and morality plays with
some stylistic infusion from educated men’s common reading
of the Roman playwrights
• City authorities would often ban theatrical productions…
gatherings encouraged crime.
• Theatres: The Theatre and The Curtain in North London; The
Rose, the Swan, and The Globe (1599) in South London.
• Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Elizabethan Theatres
Only men- crude atmosphere in the theatre(lots of drunks)
Young kids played women roles
They travelled around to perform
In 6 Month, one company might give 150 performances
with 25-30 different plays/ one week to learn their text
(about 800 Lines a day for leading roles!)
The Building
There was a dressing room, full of funny costumes.
props weren’t used until the 1600’s
round, (Wooden O)
There were hardly any toilettes
no or less roof, it could rain into the theatre
3000 people could fit
The Stage
trapdoor, they used it as a grave
The stage consisted of 3 tears, Heaven (Balcony), Earth
(Stage) and Hell (The place where the crowd was standing).
When the play started there was a flag above the theatre:
Black – Tragedy
White- Comedy.
Red – History.
The Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London
associated with William Shakespeare. It was built
in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the
Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by
fire on June 29th 1613
Shakespeare’s Life
Baptized on April 26, 1564.
Died April 23, 1616
Married at the age of 18 to Anne Hathaway.
A daughter, named Susanna, was baptized on May 26,
• On February 2, 1585, twins were baptized, Hamnet and
Judith. (The boy Hamnet, Shakespeare's only son, died
11 years later.)
• Shakespeare leaves (around 1590?)
family in Stratford to pursue acting in
Origins of Theatrical Career
• Between 1585 and 1593…not much known
• It is not clear how his career in the theatre
began; but from about 1594 onward he was an
important member of the company of players
known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men(called
the King's Men after the accession of James I in
1603). They had the best actor, Richard
Burbage; they had the best theatre, the Glode;
they had the best dramatist, Shakespeare.
Comedies; Tragedies; Histories; Romances
c. 1599
c. 1611
Henry VI, Part 1; Henry VI, Part 2; Henry VI, Part 3
Richard III, The Comedy of Errors
Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet
Richard II, A Midsummer Night's Dream
King John, The Merchant of Venice
Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2
Much Ado About Nothing
Henry V
Julius Caesar, As You Like It
Hamlet, The Merry Wives of Windsor
Twelfth Night, Troilus and Cressida
All's Well That Ends Well
Measure For Measure, Othello
King Lear, Macbeth
Antony and Cleopatra
Coriolanus, Timon of Athens
The Winter's Tale
The Tempest
Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen
Origins of the Play
• Witches
– In 1591, 3 women from Forres were on trial in Scotland for using
witchcraft in order to assassinate the King of Scotland – James.
Court records show that James actually presided over the case.
– James wrote a book about witches in 1597 entitled
Daemonologie, which discusses how witches operate and the
extent of their power.
• The Gunpowder Plot
– An attempt to assassinate King James in 1605 – officials found a
large amount of gunpowder in a basement below Parliament the
day before he was to be there.
– Arrested for treason, Henry Garnet, a Jesuit, wrote A Treatise of
Equivocation, which provided a justification for lying (a statement
is not a lie if it could possibly be true from another perspective).
Motifs: any aspect of literature which
recurs frequently(theme, image,
character etc…)
– “fair is foul,” “lost/won” “happy/not happy” “not great/greater”
Clothing metaphors
– “borrowed robes,” “strange garments,” “lest our old robes sit easier than our
Hiding true thoughts (deceit)
Traitors, “There’s no art in finding the mind’s construction in the face.” “False face must
hide what the false heart doth know.” “Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent
Nocturnal/dark animals
– Ravens, owls, snakes, wolf, scorpions, crickets,
Masculinity – what it means to be a man.
The Curse of Macbeth
The story goes that the spells Shakespeare included in Macbeth were lifted from an
authentic black-magic ritual and that their public display did not please the folks for whom
these incantations were sacred. Therefore, they retaliated with a curse on the show and all
its productions.
ill luck set in with its very first performance. John Aubrey, left us with the report that a boy
was to play Lady Macbeth at the play's opening on August 7, 1606 but died of a fever.
In 1672, the actor in the title role used a real dagger for the scene in which he murders
Duncan and done the deed for real.
In 1942, three deaths in the cast -- the actor playing Duncan and two of the actresses
playing the Weird Sisters -- and the suicide of the costume and set designer.
In 1947, actor stabbed in the swordfight that ends the play and died as a result of his
wounds. His ghost is said to haunt the Colliseum Theatre in Oldham, where the fatal blow
was struck. Supposedly, his spirit appears on Thursdays, the day he was killed.
In a production in St. Paul, Minnesota, the actor playing Macbeth dropped dead of heart
failure during the first scene of Act III.
In 1988, the Broadway production went through three directors, five Macduffs, six cast
changes, six stage managers, two set designers, two lighting designers, 26 bouts of flu,
torn ligaments, and groin injuries.
In 1998, in the Off-Broadway production starring Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett,
Baldwin somehow sliced open the hand of his Macduff.
The Curse of Macbeth
• To many theatre people, the curse extends beyond
productions of the play itself. Simply saying the name of
the play in a theatre invites disaster. (You're free to say it
all you want outside theatres; the curse doesn't apply.)
The traditional way around this is to refer to the play by
its nickname: "the Scottish Play.”
• To dispel the curse, the person who spoke the offending
word must leave the room, turn around three times to the
right, spit on the ground, then knock on the door of the
room and ask for permission to re-enter it.

Shakespeare’s Writing Style