What are the contributions of William Shakespeare?

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Other than making some great phrases and creative insults, two contributions come immediately to mind.

His first contribution would be the sonnet form he used. Sonnets originated in Italy and were popularized by poet Francesco Petrarca, more commonly known as Petrarch, and were initially brought to England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Though they both had translated Petrarch’s sonnets, Wyatt used the form in his own original work.

The problem is Petrarchan sonnets, as a form, are more suited to a romance language like Italian. The rhyme scheme is abbaabbacdcdcd and is difficult for a germanic language like English.

Shakespeare used the form ababcdcdefefgg. This rhyme scheme was much easier and was used by other famous poets such as Charlotte Smith, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Shakespeare also added many words to the English language. "Bedroom" first appeared in 1600 in Act II Scene ii of Midsummer Night’s Dream, "bloodstained" in 1594 in Act II Scene iii of Titus Andronicus, and the list goes on.  Where these were likely words he may have overheard, they were not put into print until the manuscripts were all together in the 1623 quarto.

For more information on his wordplay, see Shakespeare’s Wordplay.

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Shakespeare's largest contribution, in my view, is his popularization of the language of the English language Bible, particularly in that he borrowed liberally from the first Bible printed particularly for study and scholarship, the Geneva Bible (the version that just predated the 1611 King James Bible -- the Bible eventually compiled for regular use for common people).  Shakespeare's use of language, his imagery, metaphors, and HUGE vocabulary, when seen and heard in action on the stage, connected people to words and their possibilities. Shakespeare knew he would make that connection even easier when he used phrases already familiar to his audiences, phrases they would have heard in church or at home from the only book that would likely have been in a home at that time before the printing press and before literacy was at all commonplace. 

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