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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


written by William Shakespeare, or relating to the plays and poems he wrote

Origin and usage

The first recorded use of the adjective Shakespearian occurs in the works of the English author Henry Fielding, who in a journal entry of 1754 referred to ‘Shakespearian genius’. The -ean spelling came later.


The adjective Shakespearean belongs to a group of eponyms that consist of the name of an author with the suffix -ean, -ian, or sometimes -esque attached. The original form Shakespearian is still in use today, but the form with -ean is about 10 times more frequent in the Macmillan corpus. As you would expect, Shakespearean often collocates with words relating to Shakespeare’s works, such as sonnet, tragedy, comedy, play, drama and soliloquy. Words relating to his work more generally are also frequent collocates: nouns such as authorship, allusion, actor, acting and insult. Shakepearean is also used as a term of approval, in which case it is often preceded by adverbs like distinctively, downright and positively.


“The acting of Kean is Shakespearian—he will fully understand what we mean.”
(John Keats)

“Each of our lives is a Shakespearean drama raised to the thousandth degree.”
(Anna Akhmatova)

Related words

Dickensian, Kafkaesque, Orwellian

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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