Shakespeare and Political Correctness

Political Correctness is a major buzzword in our lives today. Some enforce it religiously, while others think it has gone too far. Whatever your opinion, far too many people excuse their language using a variety of arguments: “I didn’t mean anything by it,” “Why does it matter?” “I didn’t think anything of it.” People are going to say things that hurt others, and while this article is not a commentary on what you should or should not say; I would like to address the claim that the language that someone uses does not define who they are by using the most famous writer of all time: William Shakespeare.

    What if you were sitting in a literature class, and someone makes the statement, “Shakespeare was cool and all, but his language doesn’t really mean anything.” According to the BBC, Shakespeare provided the English Language with around 2,000 new words, and countless commonly used phrases are products of Shakespeare himself (if you have ever said “a heart of gold” or referred to a “wild goose chase,” you have accidentally quoted Shakespeare). He used a total of around 15,000 words in his plays. I mean, at least he seemed to acknowledge the importance of language. Furthermore, we know barely anything about Shakespeare as a person. We have a handful of signatures, a few possible public records of his birth and death, and that’s about it. The entire world has nevertheless fallen in love with the language of Shakespeare, not the person behind the plays.

    Undoubtedly, language shapes the world around us. We use it to connect with each other, to order food, and for our education and jobs. It shapes our laws, our religions, and our thoughts. However, language has been used for a fair amount of suffering, as well. It can be used as racial slurs and to reinforce stereotypes. The written laws and terminology that leaders use allow slavery and genocides to take place in the past and present. Each word you use has a loaded history and multiple meanings, adding a depth and complexity to how it is used. Your speech could potentially have the power to both save and destroy others. Language doesn’t “mean nothing”; it literally means everything.

    I would, however, like to mention that I have no right to tell you what to say, or how to react when others say things that you do not agree with. However, the language that each person uses does matter. It defines them and the environment around them. Shakespeare is the epitome of his era entirely because of his language. His words shape our lives today. Therefore, say what you want, but never forget the power of your words.