How Shakespeare has influenced Pop Culture

How can I be British, a writer, yet have never really written about Shakespeare in over 3 years of blogging. Would you believe that when I was at Secondary School (High School), it was politically incorrect for us to learn Shakespeare as part of the generally, we can’t be proud of any of the good things from our country because of some of the bad. Surely though if the rest of the world learnt Shakespeare then we should have done too.

So I never ever studied Shakespeare just like I never ever studied British history and yet somehow I became a writer and a historian! Still, somehow I love Shakespeare and I don’t find it hard to follow at all, at least on stage. I admit sometimes when reading it, I can only do so for short periods.

William Shakespeare was a one man writing machine and probably after The Holy Bible and The Quran. Looking at the list below his sales dwarf everyone with even The Bible “only” selling 2-5 billion copies in the last 200 years or so. Yes Shakespeare has been around a long time but when you consider how in his day a new release only had 5 million potential readers and most of them couldn’t read or afford to purchase his folios whilst J.K. Rowling with all the help of the internet, movie franchises and an English speaking population of billions has really only sold a fraction of what Shakespeare did.

Most successful writers

Most successful writers

Out of his 37 plays he wrote 10 Tragedies, 10 Histories and 17 Comedies not to mention his 154 Sonnets. In total that is 884,647 words and 118,406 lines. Incredibly approximately 1 in 100 words we speak today was invented by Shakespeare or around 1,700 with the total number of English words in 2nd Edition Oxford English Dictionary: 171,476. It is in this spirit that as Edmund Blackadder might say “I would like to extend to Shakespeare my Contrafibularities”.

Shakespeare words

Just a handful of the many commonplace words today we gained from Shakespeare.

That’s not to mention the many common phrases we use today from Shakespeare with the list below from phrases.org.uk

How many of the following have you used? I’ve use all but 7 of the below but as Shakespeare mentions in this list, I am exceedingly well-read… but not in Shakespeare himself. I guess I’m just pretentious!!

A countenance more in sorrow than in anger
A Daniel come to judgement
A dish fit for the gods
A fool’s paradise
A foregone conclusion
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse
A ministering angel shall my sister be
A plague on both your houses
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
A sea change
A sorry sight
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio
All corners of the world
All of a sudden
All one to me
All that glitters is not gold / All that glisters is not gold
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players
All’s well that ends well
An ill-favoured thing sir, but mine own
And shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school
And thereby hangs a tale
As cold as any stone
As dead as a doornail
As good luck would have it
As merry as the day is long
As pure as the driven snow
At one fell swoop
Bag and baggage
Be all and end all
Beast with two backs
Beware the ides of March
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks
Brevity is the soul of wit
But screw your courage to the sticking-place
But, for my own part, it was Greek to me
Come the three corners of the world in arms
Come what come may
Comparisons are odorous
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war
Dash to pieces
Discretion is the better part of valour
Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble
Eaten out of house and home
Et tu, Brute
Even at the turning of the tide
Exceedingly well read
Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog
Fair play
Fancy free
Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man
Fight fire with fire
For ever and a day
Frailty, thy name is woman
Foul play
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears
Good men and true
Good riddance
Green eyed monster
Hark, hark! the lark at heaven’s gate sings
He will give the Devil his due
Heart’s content
High time
His beard was as white as snow
Hoist by your own petard
Hot-blooded
Household words
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child
I bear a charmed life
I have not slept one wink
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips
I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
If music be the food of love, play on
In a pickle
In my mind’s eye, Horatio
In stitches
In the twinkling of an eye
Is this a dagger which I see before me?
It beggar’d all description
It is meat and drink to me
Lay it on with a trowel
Lie low
Like the Dickens
Lily-livered
Love is blind
Make your hair stand on end
Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water
Milk of human kindness
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows
More fool you
More honoured in the breach than in the observance
Much Ado about Nothing
My salad days
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Night owl
No more cakes and ale?
Now is the winter of our discontent
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo
Off with his head
Oh, that way madness lies
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more
Out of the jaws of death
Pound of flesh
Primrose path
Rhyme nor reason
Salad days
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything
Screw your courage to the sticking place
Sea change
Send him packing
Set your teeth on edge
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Short shrift
Shuffle off this mortal coil
Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
Star crossed lovers
Stiffen the sinews
Stony hearted
Such stuff as dreams are made on
The be all and end all
The course of true love never did run smooth
The crack of doom
The Devil incarnate
The game is afoot
The game is up
The quality of mercy is not strained
The Queen’s English
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on
There’s method in my madness
Thereby hangs a tale
This is the short and the long of it
This is very midsummer madness
This precious stone set in the silver sea, this sceptered isle
Though this be madness, yet there is method in it
Thus far into the bowels of the land
To be or not to be, that is the question
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub
Too much of a good thing
Truth will out
Under the greenwood tree
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown
Up in arms
Vanish into thin air
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
We have seen better days
Wear your heart on your sleeve
What a piece of work is man
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions
Where the bee sucks, there suck I
While you live, tell truth and shame the Devil!
Who wooed in haste, and means to wed at leisure
Wild goose chase
Woe is me

The rising number of English speakers means that there should now be 30 Shakespeare equivalent writers this very day. Once I exclude myself, I find it hard to find another 29!

Shakespeare has created many of our most lasting cultural stereotypes which we continue to use to this day with

A Romeo is a persistent romancer and philanderer
A Hamlet over thinks and is indecisive
A lady Macbeth is a cut throat and ambitious female politician

Some of which have enduring legacies:
Supernatural characters started to become common in Elizabethan England

Arial, from The Tempest is a Fun-loving, mischievous being with extraordinary abilities

Hamlet’s father’s ghost as a call for revenge
Banquo, murdered by Macbeth, returns to haunt him

Puck–fairy from A Midsummer Night’s Dream– is a mischievous fairy of the woods

“Double, double, toil and trouble”
As seen in countless supernatural thrillers

Shakespeare often wrote about violent times or stories with high emotions and high-stakes and as such in all the beautiful language it is easy to overlook just how many people get killed in his books.

64 violent deaths in Shakespeare:
33 stabbed
7 poisoned
5 beheaded
2 broken hearts
2 hangings
2 baked into a pie
1 drowned
1 smothered by a pillow
1 lack of sleep
1 drops dead
1 snake bite
1 torn apart by mob
1 Eating hot coals
1 “disappearing”
1 thrown into a fire
1 indigestion
1 buried to neck and starved
1 cut into pieces
1 throws himself away
1 eaten by bear

Centuries later and his works still directly influence modern film-making and from a personal point of view, some of the best Star Trek!

Twelfth Night-1
King Lear -6
Romeo and Juliet – 6
Midsummer Night’s Dream – 5
Othello – 1
Macbeth – 4
Hamlet – 7
Taming of the Shrew – 3
The Tempest -3
Henry V – 2
Henry IV – 1
Richard III – 1
The Comedy of Errors – 1

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.

Shakespeare in Pop Culture
Source: SuperScholar.org

What is your favourite Shakespeare word or phrase?

For those interested in a private and incredibly friendly, laid back tour to all things Shakespeare in Stratford Upon Avon, do check out my tour at http://yeoldeenglandtours.co.uk/our-tours-2/stratford-upon-avon/

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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6 Responses to How Shakespeare has influenced Pop Culture

  1. Francis says:

    Wow thanks for reminding us about the absolute greatness of Shakespeare!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting post, however I’m not convinced about the 1 out of 100 words being invented by Shakespeare.
    You, sir, are a barefaced blushing champion critic of dauntless zany marketable information which makes these jaded eyeballs grow wide in amazement at the fools paradise that this blog inspires.
    I should grovel at your feet for more such wonderful information, oh woe is me.

    All kidding aside, this was a great post! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not totally convinced about the 1 out of 100 words either but I kept reading it everywhere. Surely even in the past few years we have thousands of computer and technological words that weren’t even around in the 1930’s. I can believe that he invented hundreds of words though. It is funny how someone creates a word and it sounds very fake and then a few years later, many people just use it without a second thought. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. Wow! that really puts the pressure on for my future blog posts. Thanks for following and commenting for all these years!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ankur Mithal says:

    One of a kind. Thanks for the informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

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