Shakespeare the Brit with a Global reach
Which Shakespeare play has been translated into 75 languages? How many times does the word ‚love’ appear in the complete works? Here are 6 facts about the great Brit. Read through and discover how much you do (or don’t !) know about the Bard.
Fact 1: Location, location, location.
Shakespeare’s plays are set in many locations, some of them fictional.
Europe, Africa and the Middle East are all settings for Shakespeare’s plays, as you can see on this interactive map. His plays are set in 12 countries, with cities in what is now Italy being Shakespeare’s favourite backdrop. Some plays, such as The Tempest, take place in entirely fictional worlds. The only comedy to be set in the UK is The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Fact 2: Inspired by others
Shakespeare took phrases from other languages. For instance, ‚fat paunches make lean pates’ was originally a Greek and Latin proverb by St Jerome. Shakespeare’s ‚Greek to me’ could also be from a similar phrase in Latin, a language which Shakespeare could read.
Fact 3: Shakespeare in LOVE
The word ‘love’ appears 2,191 times in the complete works. The number is based on the 1864 Globe Edition – the amount could vary slightly from edition to edition. Altogether, there are 28,829 unique word forms in all of Shakespeare’s works, and 12,493 occur only once.
Fact 4: The lingo
Shakespeare invented lots of expressions that we still use today. Here’s a selection of popular expressions. Have you used any of these lately?
- ‚Heart of gold’ (Henry V) ‚Wild-goose chase’ (Romeo and Juliet)
- ‚Faint-hearted’ (Henry IV part I) ‚Brave new world’ (The Tempest)
- ‚Break the ice’ (The Taming of the Shrew) ‚For goodness’ sake’ (Henry VIII)
- ‚Foregone conclusion’ (Othello) ‚Love is blind’ (The Merchant of Venice)
You can find out more about Shakespearian phrases in one of our previous BritIt blog posts.
Fact 5: It’s all in the name
The most popular name from a Shakespeare play used today is Olivia. That’s according to the list of most popular US and British baby names in 2014. Olivia is the name of a character in Twelfth Night. Shakespeare was the first person to use the name with this spelling.
Oliver (As You Like It), Harry (Hotspur, Henry IV, and characters in other plays), Isabella (Measure for Measure) and William (As You Like It) are also popular today. Shakespeare didn’t invent these names but they are enduringly popular. Do you know anyone with a Shakespearian name?
Fact 6: Lack of originality
The stories told in most of Shakespeare’s plays are not original. Shakespeare’s primary source materials were English and Latin works: histories, plays, and poems.
For the histories (and King Lear and Cymbeline), Shakespeare relied heavily on Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Romeo and Juliet is based on an Italian folktale, which Shakespeare read in translation. Some plays he took directly from classical sources, like The Comedy of Errors, which he took from Plautus’s The Brothers Menaechmus). Sometimes, he rewrote earlier plays, King Lear is based on The Chronicle History of King Leir.
Have your say!
We’d love to hear about your favourite Shakespearian quotes or fun facts you know about him. Join in with #ShakespeareLives in Poland or share your insights via the comment box.
British Council Voices
A version of this article appeared on our British Council Voices blog in March 2015. It was written by Laura Estill and Eric Johnson. The ‘Voices Magazine’ blog is another excellent resource for insights into UK Culture and the work of the British Council.