What are William Shakespeare's contributions to English literature?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare made many contributions to English Literature and one of the ones that affects us every day is his contribution to the English language.  In fact, Shakespeare actually frequently made up his own words, which still live on in the English language today. Scholars point out that Shakespeare is responsible for coining about 1,700 of the English words found in our 25,000 word-long English vocabulary. The article "Words Shakespeare Invented" by Amanda Mabillard contains a list of a few words Shakespeare coined.

One word Shakespeare is known to have coined is the word accused. He took the Greek prefix acou-, acous-, acouso-, or acoust-, meaning "denotes hearing," which was already being used in Late Middle English, and combined it with the past tense ending -ed to refer to those who are on trial are those who need a hearing to determine their guilt or innocence (Prefix Dictionary, Oxford Dictionaries Online). Shakespeare first coined the word accused in the play Richard II, Act I, Scene I, when, speaking of those who are being formally charged of treason, King Richard II says:

Then call them to our presence; face to face,
And frowning brow to brow, ourselves will hear
The accuser and the accused freely speak. (I.i.16-18)

The word unreal was also coined by Shakespeare. He took the Latin prefix un- meaning "not" or "deprived of" and combined it with the Latin word realis being used in Late Middle English as a word in legal terminology meaning "relating to things, especially real property" (Prefix Dictionary; Oxford Dictionaries Online). The word unreal first appears in Macbeth in Act III, Scene IV when Macbeth exclaims of the ghost of Banquo, "Hence, horrible shadow! / Unreal mockery, hence!" (III.iv. 106-07).

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