• June 6th, 2020

The significance of William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets in education: Part 2

The late former President of the Republic of Tanzania Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was not only an astute statesman and a Pan-Africanist par excellence, but also a literary giant who popularised the works of William Shakespeare in his country. 
Nyerere is credited for translating Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice in Swahili as Juliasi Kaizari and Mabepari wa Venisi respectively. As a former teacher (Mwalimu in Swahili) and President Nyerere noticed the richness of Shakespeare’s plays and successfully made them accessible to millions of Tanzanians in Swahili, with amazingly positive results. 

I have decided to refer to Nyerere’s extraordinary translations to buttress the point that Shakespeare’s works are as relevant to today’s society as they were back then some centuries ago. Similarly, Shakespeare’s plays were translated into over 80 languages, some of which are Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Irish and Welsh. Who knows, maybe one day some of Shakespeare’s works will be translated into Otjiherero, Damara-Nama, Rukwangali, Oshiwambo, Subiya or Lozi, among other Namibian indigenous languages. It just needs visionary men and women who understand the aesthetic value of progressive literature in general, regardless of its origin. 

William Shakespeare made immense contribution to the English language we use today. Through his plays and sonnets, Shakespeare invented or coined over 1 700 English words which are still in use day. As this was not enough, Shakespeare also created many English phrases and sayings which have stood the test of time, and we find ourselves using them without even realising that they are Shakespeare’s creations. 

I had an argument with one scholar the other day who said there was no need to know that Shakespeare created many English words and phrases for people to learn and use English as a second language proficiently. While this is true, from an academic perspective, it is worthwhile to know the etymology of words and phrases in a language in order to have a better understanding of that language, in this case English. Etymology refers to the study of the origins, history and meanings of words.

 So, what are some of the words that Shakespeare coined? The next time you use the word “accommodation” and you say you are “disheartened”, you should know that these words did not “exist” in English but were created by Shakespeare. Likewise, when you ask your “manager” to give you some time to go and move your “belongings” to your new place of residence, you should know that the words in quotations marks were invented by Shakespeare. Other examples of Shakespeare’s words used today in English are “emulate”, “swagger”, “scuffle”, “addiction”, “cold-blooded”, “fashionable”, and “eyeballs” – the list is endless. What this proves is that Shakespeare was a skilful wordsmith who took liberty to use his creative mind to invent English words which he gave meanings to stand for phenomena and objects around his environment. And the words were readily accepted into the repertoire of the English vocabulary.

Not only did Shakespeare invent words, but he also developed phrases and sayings that we use today in English. When you “laugh yourself into stitches” and you say “as good luck would have it”, be sure that you are quoting Shakespeare without knowing it. When you solve a problem and you say “All is well that ends well”, and you tell some people that “Jealousy is a green-eyed monster”, remember Shakespeare’s invaluable contribution to the Queen’s language (English). In one context, you express gratitude by saying “In my heart of hearts”, in another situation you may say “All that glitters is not gold”, and in yet another situation you don’t understand something and you say “It’s Greek to me”, and when you appear to be “more sinned against than sinning” – still know that you are indebted to Shakespeare’s ingenuity as far as the creation of sayings is concerned. We all say “love is blind”; we described some people as being “faint hearted”; some shoes or suits as having “seen better days”; some events as “much ado about nothing”; some unpleasant situation “a sorry sight”; and the unceremonious departure of an authoritarian leader as “good riddance”. In all the aforementioned instances, thanks to Shakespeare; we would not have said or described each of them in a better way. Again, the list of these phrases and sayings is endless.

With these few examples, I have amply demonstrated how Shakespeare’s works have enriched the English language. Also, it is clear that Shakespeare’s 37 plays and sonnets are still relevant to us today because it is from these works that some other words we use today are contained. It is my conviction that schools, colleges and universities in Namibia should include some of Shakespeare’s works in their English curricula. Experience has demonstrated that Shakespeare’s works can be introduced at any level, as long as they are adapted to the intended level. Shakespeare’s plays are now available in abridged forms as movies and animations. All this makes Shakespeare’s plays accessible at any level. So, enrich your English by reading at least one of Shakespeare’s plays or sonnets. You will love it! And guess what? It is William Shakespeare’s birthday today!

*Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. Email address: kjairos@gmail.com

New Era Reporter
2019-04-26 09:29:25 | 1 years ago

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