By Mia Hodorovich
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English Poet, playwright, and actor. Shakespeare wrote
approximately 39 plays and over 150 sonnets and is widely considered the greatest writer in the English
language. In this informational text, Mia Hodorovich discusses the legacy of Shakespeare and his popular
work. As you read, take notes on how Shakespeare’s contributions can still be felt today.
William Shakespeare is the most studied playwright in
the world. All of his plays have been translated into
every major language and are performed more
frequently than those of any other playwright. He is
considered the major author of Modern English
literature, the standard to which all other writers are
Despite having lived over 400 years ago, Shakespeare
is one of the most popular writers in history. His
influence lasts to this day, shaping how we
communicate and inspiring the popular culture we
consume. So how has Shakespeare managed to beat
the test of time?
All the world’s a stage
Shakespeare became popular during the rule of Queen Elizabeth I and produced most of his work between
1589 and 1613. During this time, London was experiencing a revitalization1
of the arts. Few enjoyed as much
acclaim as Shakespeare. He was a prolific2
dramatist and poet. He produced about 39 plays and wrote over 150
sonnets in little over two decades.
His plays can typically be broken down into three categories. He wrote plays about historical figures, such as
Julius Caesar and Henry VI. He wrote comedies, like Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
These plays are called comedies because they contain happy endings, usually in the form of a wedding. Finally,
he wrote tragedies, like Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet, which feature character deaths and tragic endings.
Shakespeare wrote not only plays but beautiful sonnets, as well. A sonnet is a type of poem that consists of 14
lines (three quatrains3
and one couplet)4
and follows a specific rhyme scheme. Many of his sonnets feature
themes about love and beauty. He wrote these sonnets, as well as a good deal of his plays, in iambic
pentameter. This form of writing contains five metric feet, in which each foot consists of an unstressed syllable
followed by a stressed syllable. It mimics the rhythms of natural speech patterns in English, a feat which takes a
great amount of careful writing skill.
- the action of giving something new life or energy
- Prolific (adjective) producing a great number of something
Brevity is the soul of wit
Shakespeare was an innovator5
of language. People quote his plays all of the time without realizing it. If you’ve
ever heard someone say that “love is blind” or “all that glitters is not gold,” they’re quoting The Merchant of
Venice. In fact, Shakespeare is credited with inventing over 1700 words and phrases. Do you know the joint that
bends in the middle of your arm? Without Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have the word for elbow!
Not only has Shakespeare shaped the English language but he’s also had a hand in almost every form of
popular culture. From books to music to modern theatre, Shakespeare has served as an inspiration. The
popular TV series Breaking Bad is in part inspired by Macbeth — just as House of Cards takes cues from Richard
III, and the show Empire has been compared to King Lear.
One reason his work has endured is because he wrote about universal themes. His storylines are dramatic and
engaging. His dialogue is witty and poetic. He wrote tales of forbidden romance, of political intrigue, of murder
and revenge. In their time, these plays were comparable to modern blockbusters. In fact, many films have been
inspired by Shakespeare, such as The Lion King and 10 Things I Hate About You.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness
Many people tend to think of Shakespeare as boring and outdated. His work is known for its complexity, and
his plays are published with a lot of footnotes — sometimes even translations! Nevertheless, his contributions
to language and culture are apparent today. It’s hard to avoid his influence on language, literature, and popular
culture. Shakespeare continues to inspire generations of readers, writers, actors, and audience members. In
this way, his legacy lives on.
- a stanza of four lines, usually having alternate rhymes
- two lines that usually rhyme
- Innovator (noun) a person who introduces new ideas or methods
Directions: Brainstorm your answers to the following questions in the space provided. Be prepared to
share your original ideas in a class discussion.
- In the text, the author discusses the legacy of William Shakespeare and how his influence
can still be felt today. What do you think are Shakespeare’s most important contributions to
modern day? Can you think of other writers from the past whose work has had a significant
impact on popular culture today? If so, which ones?
- In the text, the author discusses some of the films and television shows that have been
inspired by William Shakespeare’s work. Are you familiar with any of these shows? What
themes do they address that you would consider universal or timeless?