The Quick 10: 10 Ways Shakespeare Changed Everything 
by Jamie Spatola – December 2, 2011 – 2:21 PM

Read the full text here:

–brought to you by mental_floss! 

The basic thesis of Stephen Marche’s How Shakespeare 

Changed Everything becomes obvious very early on (as in, it 

is expressed in the title). According to this fun, lyrically written 

and well-researched book, here are just ten of the many 

ways that Shakespeare changed everything:

1. He gave us a lot of new words
Just say some words real quick and you’ll probably say one 

he coined – nearly 10% of his 20,000-word vocabulary was 

new to his audiences. You may consider yourself quite 

fashionable or softhearted. You may consider this post to be 

lackluster. But you couldn’t consider any of those things to be 

those ways if Shakespeare hadn’t made up the words for 


2. He inspired an assassin
On November 25, 1864, actor John Wilkes Booth starred as 

Marc Antony alongside his brothers, Edwin as Brutus and 

Junius, Jr. as Cassius, in a one-night benefit performance of 

Julius Caesar at New York City’s Winter Garden Theatre — 

incidentally raising money to place a statue of Shakespeare 

on Central Park’s Literary Walk. Five months later, on April 

14, 1865, JWB would put on a more impactful performance 

at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, as a real-life Brutus, 

assassinating the leader of a nation.

3. He inadvertently caused a pigeon problem
His statue in Central Park is covered in pigeon droppings, 

and strangely it’s kind of his fault. (Yes, the same statue for 

which the Booth brothers’ benefit raised the funds). It’s hard 

to believe that the veritable starling infestation of New York 

City came as the direct result of an innocent bird-lovin’, Bard

-lovin’ pharmaceutical manufacturer named Eugene 

Schieffelin but, alas, ‘tis true.

In March of 1860, Schieffelin released a mere sixty starlings 

into the Central Park air as a part of his effort to introduce 

every bird mentioned in Shakespeare to North America. 

Scientists estimate that the descendants of this and another 

small 1891 Schiefflin-released flock now number in the area 

of 200 million.

4. He named a lot of babies
Simpson, Biel and Rabbit, just to name a few. The name 

“Jessica” first appears in Shakespeare. The original Jessica 

was Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice.

5. He cleared the path for Freud
Shakespeare thought sexual repression was for the birds. 

His plays are bawdier than anything the Farrely Brothers 

have devised and, while his own rowdy Globe Theatre 

crowds ate it up (they were all drunk anyway), future 

generations found it necessary to censor the Bard 

substantially. Bell’s Shakespeare from 1773, the first 

collection of Shakespeare’s plays as they were performed 

on the English stage, contained only 2/3 of the original 


6. He helped us understand teen angst
Those who want to see Romeo and Juliet as the 

embodiments of purity and love, like 18th-century English 

playwright David Garrick, are met with an imposing editorial 

task. Garrick’s first cut was the elimination of the character of 

Rosaline, the source of Romeo’s heartsickness at the play’s 

outset (she’s the one making his “sad hours seem long” in 

Act I, Scene 1) and one of many examples of the young 

man’s rash and impetuous teenage behavior. Apparently, 

people enjoyed the wishful notion of the purity and sensibility 

of teenage love, Garrick’s edited version of the play survived, 

unchanged, for over a hundred years.

7. He invigorated Nazis and anti-Nazis alike
While it’s difficult to categorize Shakespearean politics, it’s 

easy to find justification of one’s own prejudices and beliefs 

in the Shakespeare canon. Many groups and movements 

have sought to claim him as their own. Shortly after Hitler 

became Chancellor of Germany, the Nazi Party issued a 

pamphlet entitled Shakespeare – A Germanic Writer. Three 

years later, during the height of Hitler’s rule, there were more 

performances of Shakespeare’s works in Germany than the 

rest of the world combined.

But those opposed to Hitler’s ideals could also find support 

in Shakespeare’s works, particularly in Shylock’s well-known 

speech from The Merchant of Venice.

8. He raised questions about race and prejudice
Just ask Paul Robeson – African-American actor, athlete, 

activist, and all-around rock star who, in 1943, played the 

role of Othello on Broadway. To this day, that show’s run of 

296 shows is the longest ever for a Shakespeare play on 


9. He ticked off Tolstoy
Big time. The works of the very-bearded Russian great 

aside, Shakespeare’s literary influence is immeasurable. 

Dickens and Keats credited nobody more. Eliot claimed that 

the modern world can essentially be divided into two 

categories: those things influenced by Shakespeare and 

those influenced by Dante. William Faulkner, Aldous Huxley, 

Vladimir Nabokov, and David Foster Wallace each titled one 

of their works directly from a line in Shakespeare.

But perhaps the influence Shakespeare had on Tolstoy’s 

writing was even more profound, since Tolstoy wrote a whole 

book about his disdain for the Bard. Tolstoy on Shakespeare 

reveals, unequivocally, that Tolstoy did not merely lack delight 

in Shakespeare’s work, he derived from it, “irresistible 

repulsion and tedium” and found the literary world’s reliance 

on and reference for Shakespeare to be “a great evil – as is 

every untruth.” Yowza.

10. He killed a tree in Bidford
And he did so years after his own death! Legend has it that a 

retired lush of a Bard stumbled under said tree – the crab 

variety – and slept off a night of competitive drinking with 

Bidford’s supposedly prolific booze hounds. Tourists tore the 

poor tree to shreds, taking home souvenirs of old Willy’s wild 

night. In the absence of any really reliable biography, we cling 

to legends and potentialities to help us understand anything 

at all about the man whose writing has helped us to 

understand so much.

And he could have changed even more!
Marche reminds readers of the tantalizing fact that there are 

lost Shakespeare plays – two, at least, that scholars know 

existed but we have never had the pleasure of reading or 

seeing performed. One is Love’s Labors Won, the sequel to 

Titus Andronicus (just kidding). Love’s Labors Won is 

mentioned in two different sources, one being a bookseller’s 

list, meaning the play was likely in print at one time.

The other is Cardenio, which scholars assume from the title 

is an adaptation of scenes from Don Quixote. 18th-century 

editor Lewis Theobald allegedly discovered a copy of this 

manuscript and developed his own play, The Double 

Falsehood, based on the manuscript. But he never showed 

the manuscript to anyone and lost it in a fire — either that or 

he made the whole thing up. Many scholars do believe, 

however, that The Double Falsehood does, indeed, contain 

elements of a play originally crafted by Shakespeare.

Read the full text here:

–brought to you by mental_floss! 

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