Shakespeare is considered the greatest playwright of all times. He lived in the 16th century, but his plays are still avidly read and studied throughout the world. Exactly what is it that makes them so evergreen although we no longer write like he did? Today, we bring to you an analysis about writing style of Shakespeare in comparison to today’s writers. Even though language and writing style has evolved, his works have stood the test of time.

Use of archaic language

Perhaps the biggest difference between Shakespeare and our contemporary writers is the kind of language they use. Shakespeare wrote his plays and poems in Old English, using ‘thou’ instead of you and ‘thine’ instead of your. However, the difference in language runs much deeper than the mere usage of words. Since Shakespeare lived centuries before us, his writing style was suited to the culture of his times. His choice of words and flow is drastically different from ours.

Use of classical allusions, metaphors and theological references

A writing device that Shakespeare used far more heavily than us the allusion. Almost every dialogue and every verse contains an allusion to history, mythology or theology. Shakespeare drew on Roman and Greek mythologies for his metaphors as well. He commonly compared his characters to say, Hercules of the Greeks or Trojan soldiers. In fact, the last scene of the Merchant of Venice is basically just a series of allusions to classic Roman and Greek love stories.

More structure and construct to plays

These days, writers love experimentation, freedom and flexibility. They like to use their creative abilities to do away with the normal structure of the plot, or the decorum for dialogues and other such conventions. Shakespeare, however, created unique and distinct plots and characters within the same framework. The traditional five act play was his creation. Plus, his dramas followed a typical plot arc – exposition, conflict, complication, climax and resolution/catastrophe. His poems have a fixed style as well – four quatrains and a final resolving couplet.

Shakespeare In Comparison To Today's Writers
Shakespeare In Comparison To Today’s Writers (Macbeth cover)

Use of comic relief

Authors today strive for clarity over comic relief. However, Shakespeare commonly introduced comic relief in the form of stock characters, double plots and foppish dandies. He did this especially in the case of his tragedies, in order to relieve the stress of the scenes. For example, the porter scene in Macbeth, the grave-digger scene in Hamlet and the gulling of Roderigo in Othello are excellent comic relief scenes. This is a practice that has become redundant in today’s age.

Exaggerated, unrealistic characters

Shakespeare often used extreme characters in his plays. The displays of heroism by the male protagonist were often extravagant and unreal. Similarly, the evil in his villains was also extreme. Shakespeare created flawed characters with real defects, but he also magnified their virtues and vices in order to make a deeper impact on his audience. The characters he used for comic relief were also highly caricatured and exaggerated. This larger-than-life construction was part of the stage appeal of his day, but has lost its luster now. Now, people appreciate slice-of-life characters that they can relate to.

Dramas in verse

Shakespeare wrote his dramas in a combination of prose and verse. Generally, the protagonists and more important characters had their dialogues in verse. These characters spoke in elaborate rhymes and with immaculate meter. However, the less important characters had dialogues that were, for most part, flat prose. Today, this distinction rarely exists and most dramas are in prose. Even contemporary poetry relies heavily on emotion rather than meter and rhyme.

Use of double entendres and rhetorical flourishes

Shakespeare was known for his puns and double entendres. He concealed sexual and other innuendo that would have been vulgar at the time using this technique.This unique style of writing not only gave insight into the characters’ minds but also lightened the atmosphere. Even though Shakespeare’s plays might have profound revelations on human condition, but they were also very entertaining. He is also known for his philosophical musings and rhetorical flourishes.

Imbued with soliloquies and monologues

Shakespeare’s plays are full of soliloquies and monologues. Soliloquies are long passages wherein the character speaks to himself regardless of any listeners. Monologues are, well, one character speaking for a long time with listeners.  Shakespeare used these as devices to give the audience insight into his character’s heads. These are very distinctive to Shakespeare and rarely used now.

Restraint in dialogue

As was fitting to that day and age, Shakespeare’s dramas often have restraint. There are no sex or violence scenes. Due to the language, it may also seem that the expressions of love, although passionate and excessive, are artificial and devoid of real emotion. Today, writers try to incorporate topics that are considered a taboo in society and make people feel emotion in its rawest sense. Today, there is much more freedom of expression than in those days. However, Shakespeare still included indirect references to things he couldn’t openly talk about – hence the concept of restraint as opposed to deletion of explicit material.

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