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Why is Shakespeare so important today?

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Quick Answer

William Shakespeare's work has shaped English literature, language and thought for over 400 years. Scholar Alan Craven names him the "greatest dramatist, the greatest poet and the greatest prose writer" in the English language. Shakespeare's coined words are incorporated into the language today as common parlance; his genres led to modern literary genres and his plays transformed theater. Most importantly, Shakespeare's work changed the way Westerners think about humanity, ethics and themselves.

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Why is Shakespeare so important today?
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T.S. Eliot once said that Shakespeare and Dante divide the modern world between them. In other words, all literature and thought in the Western world today derives either from Shakespeare's passionate, broad understanding of humanity or Dante's equally passionate but strictly moral understanding. MIT's Professor Alexander Huang points out that Shakespeare's work informed and influenced the founding fathers of the United States from Jefferson to Lincoln. He was the most influential English-language writer of the English-speaking world.

Beyond that, Shakespeare shaped the English language itself. When he wrote his plays, French was considered the language of culture and English literature consisted of only a handful of works. Shakespeare modernized the English language. He introduced or recorded for the first time in his plays thousands of new words, many of which became household words. Hundreds of phrases and aphorisms - including the phrase "household words" - were also introduced in his work.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    Did William Shakespeare write all of his plays?

    A:

    Although there is some controversy about whether William Shakespeare actually authored all of the plays attributed to him, there is no evidence to support the belief that he used someone else's work. There are a number of arguments that promote this claim, but academics generally agree that Shakespeare wrote them.

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  • Q:

    Where did Shakespeare work?

    A:

    Although William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon, north of London, he spent most of his career living and working in London. Between 1590 and 1613, he wrote and acted in plays that were produced at the Globe and Blackfriars theaters and at court.

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  • Q:

    What was the first play performed at the Globe Theater?

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    The first play performed at the Globe Theater was William Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar." The construction of the Globe Theater, which was located in London's district of Southwark, was completed in 1599.

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  • Q:

    Why is "Romeo and Juliet" a tragedy?

    A:

    William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is generally regarded as a tragedy because it features dramatic and devastating events when the two main protagonists die at the end. It doesn't, however, fit the conventional mode of Greek tragedies.

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