To mark Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, here is the author’s cut (i.e. longer) of my chapter on him in There Was an Old Geezer Called Caesar.
There was an old fellow named Will
Who wrote with rare humour and skill.
In sonnets and plays
He coined many a phrase
But the sad fact is, Will couldn’t spill*.
The Queen’s English is filled with household words coined by, or popularised by, William Shakespeare. Language was meat and drink to him. His works were responsible for a sea change in our language and literature that was to reach all corners of the world.
But it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em – Shakespeare achieved it.
Born in Stratford, he was married at 18 to Anne Hathaway (no, not that one!). Thereby hangs a tale, but then the course of true love never did run smooth.
He wrote tragedies to make your hair stand on end, and comedies to have you in stitches, and his sonnets were such stuff as dreams are made on. He knew that brevity is the soul of wit, though this was at times honoured more in the breach than the observance – the Bard could lay it on with a trowel.
Though Shakespeare never trod the primrose path, as good luck would have it, he was able to achieve his heart’s content before shuffling off this mortal coil. So all’s well that ends well.
In fact, it’s more in sorrow than in anger that I have to add that his spelling would be given short shrift by any English teacher nowadays. As well as the 20-odd phrases you may have spotted above, Shakespeare’s been credited with coining 1700 words – often using tricks such as verbing nouns or nouning verbs, but also by spelling the same word in multiple different ways depending on his mood.
And of course, it has been noted before that the title of this chapter is an anagram of William Shakespeare. But then, what’s in a name?
*No, not a mistake – it’s my new coinage, OK?