William Shakespeare’s standing as one of the great writers in the English language is universally recognized and unlikely to be seriously challenged now or in the foreseeable future. Although relatively little is known for certain about his life and personal beliefs, and only little more about the circumstances in which he wrote his celebrated plays and poetry, his influence upon literature, language and the wider culture remains profound and far-reaching.
The emotional power of Shakespeare’s language combined with the originality of his plots and the strength of his characterization has ensured the continuing popularity of his plays with succeeding generations of readers and theatre-goers. The work of a practical man of the theatre, the thirty-six or so tragedies, comedies, tragic-comedies, romances and histories credited to Shakespeare’s name continue to be widely performed four hundred years after their creator’s death. Even today theatre directors around the world continue to contrive new interpretations of his dramas, finding new ways to keep the stories exciting and relevant to contemporary audiences. As his fellow-playwright and friend Ben Jonson observed in his famous epitaph for Shakespeare, ‘He was not of an age but for all time.’
All this is despite the sometimes archaic Elizabethan phraseology and imagery that pepper the texts, alongside references to customs and traditions long since fallen into disuse. The meaning of many of the words in Shakespeare’s lexicon is no longer immediately familiar and texts are often accompanied by glossaries explaining more obscure terms. Other words that were actually coined by the author have long since been absorbed into the language, testament to the unique literary legacy the man himself left.