Shakespeare’s Language

A look into the innovative use of language that characterizes Shakespeare’s writing.


Shakespeare's language: an overview

Shakespeare’s use of language was a major factor in his success as a playwright. His mastery of the English language was evident in his use of puns, wordplay, and blank verse.


His ability to create vivid imagery and to convey complex emotions and ideas through language was unparalleled. He was able to use language to create a sense of atmosphere and to draw his audience into the story.

His use of blank verse was particularly innovative, as he was able to use it to create a sense of rhythm and to bring a heightened sense of drama to his plays. His wordplay and puns were also used to great effect, as they allowed him to add humor and to create a sense of irony. Shakespeare’s use of language was a major factor in the lasting success of his plays.

Blank verse

Blank verse is a type of poetry that doesn’t rhyme, but instead follows a strict metre – almost always iambic pentameter, which is five pairs of syllables, alternating between stressed and unstressed.

Shakespeare made frequent use of blank verse in his plays. This allowed him to have characters speak in a way that felt poetic, but also natural and unforced.

The lack of rhyme also creates an open-ended quality – allowing the characters to express their thoughts at length, without being confined within tight rhyming structures. For example here, where Romeo speaks in *Romeo and Juliet*:

“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief

That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”

Blank verse is usually reserved by Shakespeare for the most serious and dignified of his speeches. Rhymed verse is more prevalent in the comedies.”

Wordplay and puns

Shakespeare’s use of wordplay and puns was a masterful way to express his ideas and themes. His ability to craft clever jokes and double entendres was unparalleled in his time. He often used puns to create a humorous effect, but also to make a point about the characters or the plot.

*“Better a witty fool than a foolish wit” – Twelfth Night*

For example, in Twelfth Night, Feste’s puns are used to mock the other characters and to make a point about the foolishness of their behaviour. Despite being cast within the trope of the fool, Feste’s existence outside of normal society allows him to point out things other characters miss – he is a subversive figure.

Shakespeare also used puns to create a sense of irony, as in *Macbeth*, where Macbeth’s puns about death foreshadow his own demise. His wordplay was also used to create a sense of tension or suspense, as in *Romeo and Juliet*, where Romeo’s puns about Juliet’s name create a sense of anticipation for their meeting. Shakespeare’s use of puns and wordplay was an important part of his writing and contributed to the richness of his language.

Language in early modern England

The Elizabethan era was a period of great linguistic change. The English language was still in a state of flux, with a variety of dialects and regional accents in use. This period saw the emergence of a new standardized form of English, which was heavily influenced by the language of the court and the theater.


Shakespeare was a master of this new language, and his plays demonstrate his skill in using it to create vivid and powerful imagery. He was also adept at exploiting the linguistic changes of the time to create wordplay and puns, as well as making innovative use of blank verse.

Shakespeare’s use of language was also shaped by the changes occurring in Elizabethan England. He was able to draw on the increasing range of vocabulary available to him, as well as the new forms of expression that were emerging.

His plays show a mastery of the language of the court, as well as the language of the street. He was able to combine both of these to create a unique and powerful form of expression. His use of language was a major factor in the success of his plays, and it is this that makes them so enduringly popular.

New words and coinages

Shakespeare was an innovator in creating new words and phrases, which have since become part of the English lexicon. His works are full of newly coined words, such as “eyeball,” “swagger,” and “lackluster,” all of which have become commonplace in everyday language.


He also created hundreds of idiomatic phrases that are still used today, such as “in a pickle,” “heart of gold,” and “break the ice.” His influence on the English language is so great that it is impossible to imagine what it would be like without his contributions.

Shakespeare’s additions to the English language are not limited to words and phrases. He also introduced a variety of literary devices and techniques, such as the use of rhetorical questions, oxymorons, and extended metaphors.

His use of language was so powerful that it has been studied and imitated for centuries. His works have been translated into dozens of languages and his influence on language is still felt today.

Shakespeare's language over time

Shakespeare’s use of language evolved over time, from the early comedies to the later tragedies. In the earlier works, such as *The Comedy of Errors*, Shakespeare’s language was often light and humorous, with puns and wordplay used to create a comedic atmosphere.

As his works progressed, Shakespeare began to use more complex language, with longer sentences and more sophisticated metaphors. He also began to experiment with blank verse, which allowed him to create a more lyrical and poetic style. This evolution of language allowed Shakespeare to create a greater range of characters and emotions, and to explore more complex themes. As a result, his later works, such as Macbeth and King Lear, are considered some of the greatest works of literature ever written.

*“Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast” – A Comedy of Errors*

Shakespeare’s use of language was also shaped by the culture and society of his time. He was influenced by the works of other playwrights, as well as by the literature of the period. He was also influenced by the language of everyday life, which he often used to create vivid and memorable characters.

As a result, Shakespeare’s language was often both innovative and familiar, allowing him to create a unique style that has stood the test of time. His use of language was an essential part of his success as a playwright, and it is one of the reasons why his works are still studied and performed today.

The legacy of Shakespeare's language

Shakespeare’s use of language is one of the most significant aspects of his legacy. His ability to craft vivid and evocative scenes and characters through the use of words is unparalleled in the English language.


It’s estimated that Shakespeare invented *1,700* words that are still in use today.

These include, among many others:


To read Shakespeare is not just to read a master of the modern English language, but to read its most significant creator. Improving your vocabulary is one of many reasons to read and study his works.

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