What made Shakespeare such an unprecedented literary genius? Mostly our ignorance of literary precedent, the Boston Globe reports.
Many of the innovations traditionally credited to Shakespeare, scholars have found, are simply artifacts of how much Shakespearean text has survived, relative to the work of his contemporaries:
[A]s more works become digitized, Shakespeare’s number of first-use citations in the OED is dropping, from 3,200 at midcentury to around 2,000 today.
Meanwhile, in another 2011 article published in Shakespeare Quarterly, Hugh Craig, of the University of Newcastle in Australia, took on the belief that Shakespeare’s vocabulary is truly “beyond comparison,” aligning Shakespeare’s plays with about 100 others of the period to “dispel the myth of his exceptional vocabulary.” Craig found that, accounting for Shakespeare’s greater output and survival rate, he was not so different from his peers; on average, he employed a narrower variety of words per play than now-forgotten colleagues like Robert Greene and George Peele.
If you want to start your remedial reading, you can find the works of Greene and Peele here. (Sample passage: "Two thousand argolets and ten thousand horse; / The main battle of harquebuze on foot, / And twenty thousand horsemen in their troops, / Myself, environ'd with my trusty guard / Of janizaries, fortunate in war; / And toward Arzil will we take our way.")
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