On Our Minds: Shakespeare's Influence

May 4, 2014

Stephen Marche is the author of "How Shakespeare Changed Everything."  He tells Anne Strainchamps why he thinks Shakespeare is the most important figure in history who influenced everything from starlings to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.



Interesting vignettes, I suppose. But at the end of the interview I just found myself thinking: Big Whoop; he just executed a six-degrees of Kevin Bacon on Shakespeare

On Radiolab, Columbia professor James Shapiro explained Shakespeare was less like a writer and more like a chemist - he combined ideas to create something new:

"Look what he did just by adding a little prefix “un.”
JAMES SHAPIRO: There’s so many words that we’re now familiar with—unnerved. You know, we all know what that means but nobody had heard of unnerved, unaware, uncomfortable.

ROBERT KRULWICH: He made up uncomfortable?

JAMES SHAPIRO: He was the first to use that word…


JAMES SHAPIRO: Right. Unearthly, unhand, undress, uneducated, ungoverned, unmitigated, unwillingness unpublished, something that’s near and dear to my heart.


JAMES SHAPIRO: Unsolicited, unswayed, unclogged, unappeased, unchanging, unreal.

ROBERT KRULWICH: He made up unreal?

JAMES SHAPIRO: He was the first to use it in print or on stage.

JAD ABUMRAD: Would an audience at the time have understood what the “un” prefix meant, not real?

JAMES SHAPIRO: I think it takes you a split second. Uuuunnnnnrrrrrreeeeaaaaallll… To kind of put that “un” on the real.

ROBERT KRULWICH: But then suddenly you got this new concept that there's something real but not.

JAMES SHAPIRO: He’s taking words that ordinarily are not stuck together; things like mad cap, ladybird. Shoving them together, eye drops, to achieve a kind of atomic power. Eyesore, eyeball.
JAD ABUMRAD: He did eyeball?
ROBERT KRULWICH: It’s hard to understand how someone could think of, that up, it seems like it’s always been there.
JAMES SHAPIRO: If you ask me what his greatest gift is. He's putting them together into phrases that have stuck in our heads. So truth will out.
ROBERT KRULWICH: Truth will out.
JAMES SHAPIRO: What's done is done. I could go on and on.