William Shakespeare’s Greatness As Playwright

William Shakespeare’s Greatness as playwright

Two theories have been offered to explain about William Shakespeare’s greatness As Playwright. First  “All came from within” and that we owe his plays to the overmastering power of his genius alone.

Second: Practical and unimaginative men, however, assert that in Shakespeare’s “All came from without”. He lived in a play-loving age, he studied the crowds, gave them what they wanted and simply reflected their own thoughts and feelings. Probably the truth of the matter lies between these extreme views. Of his great of genius there can be no question; but his genius was certainly shaped and enriched by external influences. Two outward influences were most powerful in developing his genius—the little village of Stratford, and the great city of London. In Stratford he learned to know the natural man in his natural environment; in London he learned to know the social, the artificial man in the most unnatural of surroundings.

The Variety of His Gifts

Shakespeare’s greatness and pre-eminence as a dramatist are universally recognized. But wherein does this pre-eminence lie? There is, indeed* hardly any glory of Shakespeare’s drama which might not be matched by some other play of the period. Every element in Shakespeare’s dramas might, in isolation, be matched by the best of his contemporaries. What is distinctive about Shakespeare is his combination of all the gifts which were scattered in the works of other playwrights of his time. He is greatest to others writers by his many-sided curiosity d the extreme diversity of his talent. His genius was flexible to a marvelous degree. He adapted himself to the most diverse material and seemed to use it all with equal skill and enthusiasm. Into his narrative poem Venus and Adonis and The Rape of lock he poured all his love for lyrical beauty and command of rhymes, while his plays cover and, indeed, go beyond every dramatic classification hitherto known—national history, tragedy, comedy, romances, and fairy plays. But these categories do not adequate to show the variety of even his early plays. The word comedy includes plays so different as Love’s Labor’s Lost and the Comedy of Errors ; one being a fantasy consisting of sparkling dialogue, fireworks, and wordplay, and the other being a farce with an involved plot. No two of his dramas of English history have the same shape or a like movement. His great tragedies Othello, Lear, Macbeth and Hamlet are recognized by such astonishing variety of words, punishment, and dramatic movement that hardly any one formula fits them all. This diversity is to be found everywhere in Shakespearean drama.


Besides his variety, Shakespeare’s capital, gift was certainly that he could depict characters, both historical and imaginary, with a surpassing vividness. This power he wielded easily, naturally, spon­taneously, without ever giving an impression of effort. From the beginning there is living life in all his characters, but as he advanced towards maturity his characters came to be more boldly outlined and more complex. His characters differ in human philosophy, age, state of life, virtues and vices, but all of them are alike in being alive. Their parts may be short, they may have to speak only some twenty lines of verse, but they are made unforgettable. He created a multitude of Irving characters such as have never been created by any other writer. His characters are at realistic approach. Whether good or bad, whether moving among the realities of history or among the most romantic happenings, his characters possess an unfailing humanity, a striking realism. Rosalind, Portia, Juliet, Cleopatra, Caesar, Brutus, Orlando, Shylock, Falstaff, Touchstone, not to mention the great tragic heroes— indeed die catalog is endless.

The Epic Quality of Shakespeare’s Dramas

Shakespearean drama is as much empirical as romantic. His six dramas of English history and three Roman tragedies, together with Hamlet, Lear, and Macbeth (which are based on legendary chronicles accepted as genuine history by him and his public) form such a whole as is found nowhere else and is the solid bulwark of Shakespearean drama. The plays devoted to national history most plainly connect his work with the old religious drama, of which the original object was not mere pleasure but instruction and moral improvement. His theme in these historical plays is country instead of faith. These plays are a continuous history of England over a long period, the whole fifteenth century. Foreign war with its triumphs and disasters, years of prosperity and of misery, glory and shame, princes heroic and mean ; all succeed each other in his plays, painted impartially for a public enabled at once to marvel and to learn. Shakespeare keeps this breadth when he leaves London for Rome, and Holinshed for Plutarch. Although no longer inspired by patriotism, he is inspired by the great names of ancient times —Coriolanus, Brutus, Julius Caesar, Antony, Cleopatra. His first care still is to breathe new life into famous men and great events. He succeeds in representing the past with a human truth so deep and with life so intense that his work has become complementary to that of the scholar.. With him histori­cal drama reaches its climax in such scenes as that in which the Roman mob. After applauding Brutus, is almost immediately turned against him by the moving eloquence of Antony, so that men weep at the sight of Caesar’s body and cry out death to the conspirators.

Shakespeare’s Universality

It would be wrong to identify Shakespeare with any of his characters. His personality lies in that he could see and understand so much of life, so that we say of him that he is universal. We cannot not say, what was his personality. There is no point of deeds, philosophy, of the conduct of life that he has not touched upon, no mystery of human nature that he has not penetrated. Life and death, love, wealth, poverty, the prizes of life and the way we gain them ; the characters of men and the influences and forces which affect them; on all these questions Shakespeare has enriched the world with his thought. In his plays we find pure delight, bright and tender believe, satire, flaming passion, questionings into the deep and terrible mysteries and tragedies of life. In almost every play we have the most diverse elements, the high and the low, the great and the little, the noble and the base, the sad and the merry, brought under the dominance of one dramatic purpose

Why  William Shakespeare’s Greatness As Playwright Is Most Important In English Literature

The Dialogue

Another element of the greatness of Shakespeare is the perfect naturalness of his dialogue. Shakespeare is indeed a great master of dramatic dialogue. As De Quincey says, every form of natural interruption query every form of hasty interrogative and ardent reiteration when a question has been evaded; every form of scornful repetition of the hostile words; every impatient continuation of the hostile statement; in short, all modes and formula by which anger, hurry, pretending, impatience, mock, tragedy, romance and excitement are expressed—these are as plentiful in Shakespeare’s dialogue as in life itself..


Shakespeare had an amazing genius for words. He shows universal and realistic powers of expression. The loveliness of words, the uniqueness and originality of phrases, the wealth of striking similes and metaphors, the felicities of language, the richness and sweetness of verse— these are found in his plays to an remarkable degree and style. Indeed, (he foremost dramatist of his age was also the foremost poet. The unions of dramatic and lyric elements are absolute, perfect and beyond analysis. Beauty comes of the perfection of the style and the versification. There is a triumphant blending of words, metaphors, and lyrical passion in his blank verse.

In the capital scenes of the great tragedies— the dialogue of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet’s soliloquies, the scene of the awakening of Othello’s jealousy, of ear’s passionate railings, or Macbeth’s hallucination, Shakespeare possessed in a superlative degree the faculty of compressing thought into language so memorable and so final that he is the most often quoted of all English writers. Indeed, his command over the resources of the language was unique; his vocabulary runs to some 15,000 words while that of Milton contains scarcely more than half that number.



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