Ans. Shakespeare came in the ripeness of time when the English drama had needed a supreme genius to give it direction and energy. He found the raw materials of the English drama in a mess. But by his supreme powers, he turned them into finished products. He turned the baser metals into gold.
William Shakespeare (April 26, 1564 – April 23, 1616) was an English poet, playwright, and actor. Works by the ‘Bard of Avon’ including collaborations, consist of approximately 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of the uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Tragedies and comedies are two of the genres into which the First Folio of Shakespeare divides the plays; the third category is Histories, comprising plays that chronicled the lives of English Kings, but these plays themselves often tended toward the tragic (Richard II or Richard III, for instance) or the comic (the Falstaff subplots of both parts of Henry IV and the Pistol-Fluellen encounters of Henry V).
Shakespeare united the three main streams of literature: verse, poetry, and drama. To the versification of the Old English language, he imparted his eloquence and variety giving highest expressions with the elasticity of language. The second, the sonnets and poetry, was bound in structure. He imparted economy and intensity to the language. In the third and the most important area, the drama, he saved the language from vagueness and vastness and infused actuality and vividness.
Shakespeare’s work in prose, poetry, and drama marked the beginning of the modernization of the English language by the introduction of words and expressions, style and form to the language. The blank verse of his early plays is quite different from that of his later ones. It is often beautiful, but its sentences tend to start, pause, and finish at the end of lines, with the risk of monotony.
Once Shakespeare mastered traditional blank verse, he began to interrupt and vary its flow. This technique releases the new power and flexibility of the poetry in plays such as Julius Caesar and Hamlet. Shakespeare uses it, for example, to convey the turmoil in Hamlet’s mind:
Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting
That would not let me sleep. Methought I lay
Worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly—
And prais’d be rashness for it—let us know
Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well …
(Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2)
While it is true that Shakespeare created many new words (the Oxford English Dictionary records over 2,000), an article in National Geographic points out the findings of historian Jonathan Hope who wrote in “Shakespeare’s ‘Native English’” that:
the Victorian scholars who read texts for the first edition of the OED paid special attention to Shakespeare: his texts were read more thoroughly, and cited more often, so he is often credited with the first use of words, or senses of words, which can, in fact, be found in other writers.
In twenty years of his dramatic career, he has written thirty-seven plays which are the permanent treasures of English literature. Their appeal is universal. Shakespeare has touched every mood, every passion and thought of the human mind. He has also made us familiar with them. In the words of Matthew Arnold:
All pains the immortal spirit must endure,
All weakness that impairs, all griefs that bow
Find their sole voice in that victorious brow