A World Without Shakespeare


Shakespeare’s plays have maintained a global influence for generations. His works are complex, modern readers often spending hours delving into his writing in order to decipher a joke common for his time. Classrooms are still hooked, placing Shakespeare on a pedestal above other great modern playwrights and authors. Yet this seems like deserved praise as the opportunities for new interpretations and analysis are seemingly endless. However, what would our world look like if his 38 plays were never written for us to still appreciate hundreds of years later? How would the way we speak be impacted, our media and education, or would things stay the exact same?

Shakespeare greatly contributed to the standardization of the English language, and without him we wouldn’t have some of the world’s most popular phrases. Scattered throughout his dozens of plays are words we use daily and thus don’t take much notice of; however, hundreds of words we use in English everyday were actually invented by Shakespeare. Shakespeare altered and wove together English words with other languages such as French and Latin to invent words like: “dewdrop,” “birthplace,” “radiance,” and “blanket,” among others (Highsmith and Smiley). Shakespeare was thought to have created over 1,700 words in this way changing adjectives into verbs, nouns into adjectives, switching around and adding prefixes and suffixes (Racoma). Further, it is believed that, “Through his works, guidelines for grammar, spelling and vocabulary were gradually established and became common,” (J). Sayings like “in a pickle,” or “melt into thin air,” originate from his play The Tempest, “method in our madness,” comes from Hamlet, “full circle,” is King Lear, and “bedazzled,” from Taming of the Shrew wouldn’t exist without Shakespeare (Crabtree). The popularity of his works helped to make these words and phrases mainstream even in today’s world and without his influence our conversations and writings may look and sound wholly different.

Shakespeare has also inspired popular culture and education for generations. Movies like West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet), She’s the Man (Twelfth Night), and Ten Things I Hate About You (Taming of the Shrew) wouldn’t have been so well loved without the creative backbone of Shakespeare’s plays on which they were based. Shakespeare has also had a lasting influence on literature: over 25 of Dickinson’s novels were impacted by the ideas of Shakespeare in some way, and Herman Mellvilles Moby Dick was inspired by Hamlet (“How Shakespeare changed literature around the world”). Future writers will also continue to be shaped by the works of Shakespeare because of how deeply integrated he is into US schools with around 90% of American schools incorporating him into their English programs (Hollenbach). Shakespeare’s plays are a versatile tool for helping students master complex themes across a broad range of genres that are both engaging and relatable: it would be very difficult to find an author as adaptable as Shakespeare. Without his plays many of our favorite movies would be entirely different or simply wouldn’t exist and while the English education system could benefit from diversity it would lack the benefits of the collective teaching opportunities Shakespeare’s literary devices offer.

Some argue that our world would look exactly as it does now under the belief that Shakespeare never existed in the first place. Many have come to this conclusion due to the lack of authentic original manuscripts from his plays or poems or even a mention of them in his will (Stewart). Additionally, given Shakespeare’s lineage and social standing, it would be difficult for someone to grow up amongst the lower classes with hardly any formal education and suddenly be the best playwright in history (Stewart). There also remains very little descriptions of his appearance beyond his portraits, “The most detailed description of the man left to us by someone who actually knew him, it seems, is a less-than-incisive sentence from his friend and rival, the playwright Ben Jonson: ‘He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature,’” (Stewart). It is theorized that William Shakespeare was simply a cover name for another writer to conceal their identity either out of fear of controversy or the social status making play writing seem too lowly of a profession as is the case with Francis Bacon and another popular playwright Christopher Marlowe (Stewart). If this is true, then all of Shakespeare’s plays would exist without him having to lift a quill and our present day would remain relatively unaffected.

Had Shakespeare never existed we could see a major change in the way we communicate with one another and write and structure our sentences. Further, our English education systems would require an entirely new backbone and many of our favorite media publications would no longer exist. While some argue that he never existed in the first place and that nothing would change as a result, it is evident that his works have had a profound impact on our culture and global community.


Works Cited

Crabtree, Justina. “What if… we didn’t have Shakespeare.” Prospect Magazine, 27 August 2013, https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/culture/51420/what-if…-we-didnt-have-shakespeare. Accessed 14 December 2023.

Highsmith, Patricia, and Jane Smiley. “Shakespeare’s Influence on Contemporary Literature | Maryville Online.” Maryville Online, 5 May 2022, https://online.maryville.edu/blog/william-shakespeare-influence/. Accessed 5 December 2023.

Hollenbach, Lisa. “Forget Bruno. We Need to Talk About Shakespeare.” Chicago Unheard -, 27 April 2022, https://chicagounheard.org/blog/forget-bruno-we-need-to-talk-about-shakespeare/. Accessed 14 December 2023.

“How Shakespeare changed literature around the world.” The Upcoming, 1 September 2020, https://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2020/09/01/how-shakespeare-changed-literature-around-the-world/. Accessed 14 December 2023.

J, David. “Shakespeare’s Influence on the English Language.” Engoo, 21 August 2023, https://engoo.com/blog/travel-fun/shakespeares-influence-on-the-english-language/. Accessed 14 December 2023.

Racoma, Bernadine. “William Shakespeare: His Influence in the English Language.” Day Translations, 15 January 2014, https://www.daytranslations.com/blog/shakespeare-influence-english/. Accessed 14 December 2023.

Stewart, Doug. “To Be or Not to Be Shakespeare | Arts & Culture.” Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/to-be-or-not-to-be-shakespeare-127247606/. Accessed 14 December 2023.

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