A conversation with the boyfriend –
Me: Did you know that Shakespeare made the word “lonely” popular? Like people didn’t use that word until Shakespeare. But that’s crazy ’cause its so common now.
Boyfriend: Maybe people were just really happy before and then Shakespeare came along and opened Pandora’s box. And everyone was sad. 😦
Well… not quite, although Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human does make a similar (controversial) claim. Whether or not Shakespeare was the first to discover or conceive of individual psychology (and then make that concept popular), he certainly left us with a great set of new vocabulary with which to describe our inner selves. One of the most fundamental things that I believe and love about literature is that language can change the way we think and see the world. Shakespeare was a great inventor of language and he was so good at saying “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed” as Alexander Pope would put it. (Although, to temper my bardolatry, I will also say that he produced some duds like “unfix”.)
A lot of non-English majors I know shrug off Shakespeare like a chore, something they had to read in high school, and they wonder how Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing will ever be useful. Maybe its because Renaissance drama is my specialization, but I really do feel like Shakespearean studies is important precisely because Shakespearean language has influenced so much of Western culture since the 1600s. Ever use the words “dejected,” “ruminate,” or “pious”? Or even “abstemious” – which is usually the second or third word on any SAT vocab list? You have Shakespeare to thank for that.
Now that I’ve given my “why I love English” speech of the day, it’s time to get back to converting citations for my professor’s article on Shakespearean neologisms. It’s tedious, but also insanely awesome because it’s like I’m reading a top secret unpublished manuscript. I love my new job.