Shakespeare’s language

Shakespeare was a master of words and the English language has been impacted by his work in ways that many don't realise. From famous phrases from his plays that have entered the modern lexicon, through to his expert use of language techniques and even word inventions, the way we use language owes a great debt to Shakespeare.

Sara Zwangobani as Mark Antony (2018)


Shakespeare’s plays are filled with incredible language, but what techniques are at work? Here’s a list of just some of the many literary techniques that Shakespeare employs, with examples as spoken by his characters.

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Common phrases in Shakespeare's plays

Are you 'speaking Shakespeare'?

Shakespeare’s language has had such an impact on the English language that many phrases from his plays have become part of our common speech, whether we realise it or not. In fact, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations says that Shakespeare wrote about one-tenth of the most quotable quotations ever written or spoken in English.

The Chandos Portrait, by artist John Taylor


Depending on who you believe, the English language owes a debt of gratitude to Shakespeare for the invention of anywhere between 400 and 2500 words and phrases that we still use today. It makes sense. Shakespeare was changing the way humans tell stories. Some people even believe he was changing what it meant to be a human being, so it stands to reason that he would need some interesting new words to help him do that.

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