Shakespeare’s Tropes: 7 Phrases and Concepts That Changed Western Culture

Aside from the Bible, Greek myths, classical philosophers, a few Germans, and maybe Charles Dickens, no single author’s words have changed the way the Western world talks and writes like the work of William Shakespeare. Although it may often escape the casual reader’s notice, his fingerprints are all over our books, plays, television shows, movies, and just about everything else that involves language. On what is allegedly Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite phrases and tropes the Bard injected into the English lexicon.


Bad Dreams

“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” — Hamlet, Hamlet

You don’t want the main character to give that much away, so nightmares provide an opportunity to better tell their story without them having to actually divulge anything in the dialogue. Think about Harry Potter dreaming of Voldemort killing his parents to Holly Golightly muttering something in her sleep: Hamlet made bad dreams an easy way to let people know a character has some stuff under the surface.