Shakespeare and the Power of the Written Word

Have you complained that someone refuses to budge an inch, or promised to fight till the last gasp for something important to you? Have you tried to break the ice in an awkward situation, or complained that your children have eaten you out of house and home?

If so, you’ve been unconsciously quoting possibly the greatest writer who’s ever lived – William Shakespeare.

Although we celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday on the 23rd April, the exact date isn’t known. As was usual at the time, only his baptism on 26th April was recorded, but three days was the average age for baptism. In any case, it’s always seemed appropriate for England’s greatest writer to have been born on St George’s Day.

Shakespeare is celebrated for his vivid, unforgettable characters, but also for his command of language. The phrases mentioned above are just a few in an extremely long list of common words and phrases first found in Shakespeare’s works, including “faint hearted”, “the game is up”, “heart of gold” and even “good riddance”,

The Written Word

So why does it matter? It’s only, as Shakespeare would say, “Words, words, words.”

The thing is that words and phrases don’t just convey meaning neutrally. They also convey emotions, values and shared culture, and influencing the way language is used can also influence the way people think and feel.

The negative side of this was chillingly illustrated by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but manipulating language doesn’t have to be the preserve of Big Brother. The right words can make people laugh or cry, according to your choice. Or, of course, buy your products or services.

That’s true of the spoken word, but even more of the written word, which doesn’t come and go before we notice. Some people assume that new technology is making the written word obsolete, but in reality we’re just as reliant on it as ever, if not more so. After all, today the written word can be seen all around the world within minutes of being created. In business, the way you phrase your writing can make the difference between success or failure.

Shakespeare’s Legacy

Along with the other great literary work of his day, the King James Bible, Shakespeare’s language has created a template by which we still understand and feel the language we use. Writing the right words at the right time can give us some of the same influence — in one fell swoop, as Shakespeare put it.

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