Sunday, April 23, 2006

April 23: Shakespeare's Birthday

William Shakespeare was born on this date in 1564. He also died on this date in 1616.

Besides the words we have from his plays, we know little about Shakespeare's life. Here is a brief timeline of key events:

1564 Born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, 100 miles north of London
1582 Married to Anne Hathaway on November 28th
1583 Daughter Susanna is born
1585 Twins Judith and Hamnet are born
approx. 1591 Travels to London, works as an actor
1596 Eleven year-old Hamnet dies
1513 Globe Theatre burns and Shakespeare retires to Straford.
1616 Dies in Stratford-Upon-Avon

Shakespeare is clearly the most sucessful playwright who ever lived, but his influence reaches well beyond just his plays. His writing literally transformed the English language. If you want to see what the birth of the universe looked like, read Genesis Chapter 1; if you want to see what the birth of words looks like, read the plays of Shakespeare.

Here is list of words first recorded in Shakespeare, according to David Crystal in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.


In addition to individual words, there are countless idiomatic expression that come from Shakespeare:

There's the rub from 'Hamlet'
It's Greek to me from 'Julius Caesar'
At one fell swoop from 'Macbeth'
Every inch a king from 'King Lear'
Play fast and loose from 'Love's Labor Lost'
What's in a name? from 'Romeo and Juliet'
Paint the lily from 'King John'
Too much of a good thing from 'As You Like It'
Give the devil his due from 'I Henry IV'

With a vocabulary of over 20,000 words, based on a count from the words of his plays, Shakespeare's vocabulary was prodigious. Even more amazing is the fact that over 1,700 of those words were original.

Today's Challenge: Two Bards with One Stone

Shakespeare's lexical creativity went beyond individual words and multi-word phrases. He also loved to couple words in distinctively new ways to create compound words and expressions, such as hot blooded, sea change, and pitched battle.

See if you can match each word on the left with its correct Shakesperean match on the right. See answers after the Quote of the Day.

laughing days
love mugger
elbow white
leap path
salad white
hugger affair
cold days
short path
snow days
primrose stock

Quote of the Day: Words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think. --George Byron

laughing stock, love affair, elbow room, leap frog, salad days, hugger mugger, cold comfort, short shrift, snow white, primrose path

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