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Things you say and hear literally every day come from Shakespeare's work. That includes "fair play," "love is blind," "catch the drift," and so many more. I'm including a link to these kinds of phrases and their origins.
I have to agree with mwestwood here--Shakespeare is timeless because he connected with "everyman." His situations, themes, conflicts, and characters still ring true with modern audiences. Successful movies (and other entertainment) now include elements of love, romance, drama, action, adventure, violence, scandal, sex, and comedy. Even Shakespeare's lightest-of-heart plays include every one of those elements!
Shakespeare was (and is) also capable of connecting to audiences from every walk of life. His works can be read on three separate levels--royal or upper class, middle class, and lower class (ah, to have been a groundling in Shakespeare's time!). The language in the plays, if taken at face value, can be quite sweet and innocent. Look just a bit, though, and you'll find double entendres that could make the bawdiest audience member blush. In my classroom, I like to draw a comparison to the Shrek movies.
Incidentally, his works are the second most translated in all of literature (with the Bible being the first).
He also helped translate the King James Version of the Bible. This alone is an incredible point to keep in mind, because the bible is arguably the most important book and most influential book ever published. And the king James version is still read today!
He also helped to give classical literature a second lease on life, by writing about topics that were situated in the the classical world.
No single writer has ever understood the human psyche or the human heart as well as William Shakespeare. His tragedy, "Hamlet" was clearly avant-garde in the perception and comprehension of depression, for instance. And, Shakespeare also understood the "Oedipus Complex" before Sigmund Freud identified it.
Many of the other tragedies such as "Macbeth" and "Julius Caesar" have been redefined in history as leaders such as Richard Nixon and others have fit the profile of the tragic hero consumed with power. The dangers of the impetuousness of youth is explained well in "Romeo and Juliet" long before Dr. Phil came upon the scene.
Shakespeare and The King James Bible are credited as the two biggest influences on the English language. Shakespeare has been credited with inventing over 10,000 words. He also played extensively with language and usage. He took verbs and made them nouns, nouns to verbs, etc.
For me, in addition to what jk180 says, I think that Shakespeare was important because he gave us so many expressions, sayings, and such that have become part of our culture that we all share.
For a civilization to remain intact, it's important that its people should have common bonds. Here in the United States we have so many different kinds of people that it's hard to have those kinds of bonds. Shakespeare's words give us some of those bonds. We all know what "star-crossed lovers" are, we all know what someone means when they say "something's rotten in Denmark." I just posted "what's in a name, that which we call a rose..." on someone's Facebook status and they understood what it meant.
All of that kind of stuff gives us something in common and helps allow us to have a common culture that can (hopefully) stick together.
You certainly could look at how Shakespeare enriched the English language. He's credited with introducing hundreds (maybe even thousands) of new words into the language, and the Oxford English Dictionary often cites his plays as the earliest printed examples for the use of many words and phrases.
The link below gives a brief overview.
We could actually take this a lot further. There have been many posts discussing how astute Shakespeare was when writing about the human condition, but it could be argued that his influence has actually created the modern human condition.
Think about it; who is the most studied (bar none) writer of all time. Who is actually responsible for more Hollywood movies than anyone (don't believe me, look him up on IMDB: 898 and counting). Who has had an influence on all subsequent generations of innovaters from Freud to Scorcese, Einstein to MLK. We talk about 'the human condition' as if it were immutable, whereas in fact it is an ever shifting dune that is very hard to pin down. The one strand of consistency over the last 400 odd years has been an appreciation of the bard and his 'take' on human kind. It is possible that successive generations actually took their cues from his work and became the complex 'gods and demons' that Shakespeare envisaged.
Just a thought,
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