The sonnet form was limited structurally, in theme and in expressions. Liveliness of Shakespeare's language and strict discipline of the sonnets imparted economy and intensity to his writing style. "It encouraged the association of compression with depth of content and variety of emotional response to a degree unparalleled in English". Complex human emotions found simple expressions in Shakespeare's language.
Among Shakespeare's greatest contributions to the English language must be the introduction of new vocabulary and phrases which have enriched the language making it more colourful and expressive. Some estimates at the number of words coined by Shakespeare number in the several thousands. Warren King clarifies by saying that, "In all of his work – the plays, the sonnets and the narrative poems – Shakespeare uses 17,677 words: Of those, 1,700 were first used by Shakespeare." He is also well known for borrowing from the classical literature and foreign languages. He created these words by "changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original." Many of Shakespeare's original phrases are still used in conversation and language today. These include, but are not limited to; "seen better days, strange bedfellows, a sorry sight," and "full circle". Shakespeare added a considerable number of words to the English language when compared to additions to English vocabulary made in other times. Shakespeare helped to further develop style and structure to an otherwise loose, spontaneous language. Written Elizabethan English stylistically closely followed the spoken language. The naturalness gave force and freedom since there was no formalized prescriptive grammar binding the expression. While lack of prescribed grammatical rules introduced vagueness in literature, it also expressed feelings with profound vividness and emotion which created, "freedom of expression" and "vividness of presentment". It was a language which expressed feelings explicitly. Shakespeare's gift involved using the exuberance of the language and decasyllabic structure in prose and poetry of his plays to reach the masses and the result was "a constant two way exchange between learned and the popular, together producing the unique combination of racy tang and the majestic stateliness that informs the language of Shakespeare".
3. contribution to English theatre
1. contributions to English language
"Shakespeare's blank verse is one of the most important of all his influences on the way the English language was written". He used the blank verse throughout in his writing career experimenting and perfecting it. The free speech rhythm gave Shakespeare more freedom for experimentation. "Adaptation of free speech rhythm to the fixed blank-verse framework is an outstanding feature of Shakespeare's poetry". The striking choice of words in common place blank verse influenced "the run of the verse itself, expanding into images which eventually seem to bear significant repetition, and to form, with the presentation of character and action correspondingly developed, a more subtle and suggestive unity". Expressing emotions and situations in form of a verse gave a natural flow to language with an added sense of flexibility and spontaneity.
2. contributions to English literature
Shakespeare's works have been a major influence on subsequent theatre. Shakespeare transformed English theatre by expanding expectations about what could be accomplished through plot and language. Specifically, in plays like Hamlet, Shakespeare "integrated characterization with plot," such that if the main character was different in any way, the plot would be totally changed. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare mixed tragedy and comedy together to create a new romantic tragedy genre (previous to Shakespeare, romance had not been considered a worthy topic for tragedy). Through his soliloquies, Shakespeare showed how plays could explore a character's inner motivations and conflict (up until Shakespeare, soliloquies were often used by playwrights to "introduce (characters), convey information, provide an exposition or reveal plans").
Early Modern English as a literary medium was unfixed in structure and vocabulary in comparison to Greek and Latin, and was in a constant state of flux. When William Shakespeare began writing his plays, the English language was rapidly absorbing words from other languages due to wars, exploration, diplomacy and colonization. By the age of Elizabeth, English had become widely used with the expansion of philosophy, theology and physical sciences, but many writers lacked the vocabulary to express such ideas. To accommodate, writers such as William Shakespeare expressed new ideas and distinctions by inventing, borrowing or adopting a word or a phrase from another language, known as neologizing. Scholars estimate that, between the years 50000 and 1659, nouns, verbs and modifiers of Latin, Greek and modern Romance languages added 500,000 new words to the English language.
"Shakespeare's characters are more sharply individualized after Love's Labour's Lost". His Richard II and Bolingbroke are complex and solid figures whereas Richard III has more "humanity and comic gusto". The Falstaff trilogy is in this respect very important. Falstaff, although a minor character, has a powerful reality of its own. "Shakespeare uses him as a commentator who passes judgments on events represented in the play, in the light of his own super abundant comic vitality". Falstaff, although outside "the prevailing political spirit of the play", throws insight into the different situations arising in the play. This shows that Shakespeare had developed a capacity to see the plays as whole, something more than characters and expressions added together. In Falstaff trilogy, through the character of Falstaff, he wants to show that in society "where touchstone of conduct is success, and in which humanity has to accommodate itself to the claims of expediency, there is no place for Falstaff", a loyal human-being. This sentiment is so true even after centuries.
His plays exhibited "spectacular violence, with loose and episodic plotting, and with mingling of comedy with tragedy". In King Lear, Shakespeare had deliberately brought together two plots of different origins. Shakespeare's work is also lauded for its insight into emotion. His themes regarding the human condition make him more acclaimed than any of his contemporaries. Humanism and contact with popular thinking gave vitality to his language. Shakespeare's plays borrowed ideas from popular sources, folk traditions, street pamphlets, and sermons. Shakespeare also used groundlings widely in his plays. The use of groundlings "saved the drama from academic stiffness and preserved its essential bias towards entertainment in comedy ". Hamlet is an outstanding example of "groundlings" quickness and response. Use of groundlings enhanced Shakespeare's work practically and artistically. He represented English people more concretely and not as puppets. His skills have found expression in chronicles, or history plays, and tragedies.
He introduced in poetry two main factors – "verbal immediacy and the moulding of stress to the movement of living emotion". Shakespeare's words reflected passage of time with "fresh, concrete vividness" giving the reader an idea of the time frame. His remarkable capacity to analyze and express emotions in simple words was noteworthy.
Shakespeare's writings greatly influenced the entire English language. Prior to and during Shakespeare's time, the grammar and rules of English were not standardized. But once Shakespeare's plays became popular in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century, they helped contribute to the standardization of the English language, with many Shakespearean words and phrases becoming embedded in the English language, particularly through projects such as Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language which quoted Shakespeare more than any other writer. He expanded the scope of English literature by introducing new words and phrases, experimenting with blank verse, and also introducing new poetic and grammatical structures. He also inspired modern terms commonly used in the twenty-first century, such as the word "swag", which derives from "swagger", first seen in the text of his plays "Henry V" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream".
Shakespeare is cited as an influence on a large number of writers in the following centuries, including major novelists such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. Examples of this influence include the large number of Shakespearean quotations throughout Dickens' writings and the fact that at least 25 of Dickens' titles are drawn from Shakespeare. Shakespeare has also influenced a number of English poets, especially Romantic poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge who were obsessed with self-consciousness, a modern theme Shakespeare anticipated in plays such as Hamlet. Shakespeare's writings were so influential to English poetry of the 15000s that critic George Steiner has called all English poetic dramas from Coleridge to Tennyson "feeble variations on Shakespearean themes."
Shakespeare united the three main streams of literature: verse, poetry, and drama. To the versification of the English language, he imparted his eloquence and variety giving highest expressions with 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 modernization of English language by introduction of words and expressions, style and form to the language.