And Shakespeare’s inventiveness is overblown. With each update of the OED, his list of first citations grows smaller. (Besides, Chaucer has always beaten him on that score.) Don’t get me wrong; he is great, just not as great as the public imagination makes him out to be.
Right, Shakespeare wasn’t noted by his colleagues for neologisms. The playwright that was so noted was John Marston and he was roundly mocked for it by Ben Jonson in his 1601 comedy The Poetaster. In the play Horace, representing Jonson himself, gives Crispinus (Marston) an emetic which makes him spew up all the words he’s created. It’s a very funny scene.
Tib. How now, Crispinus? C
Cris. O, I am sick—!
Hor. A bason, a bason, quickly; our physic works. Faint not, man.
Caes. What’s that, Horace?
Hor. Retrograde, reciprocal, and incubus, are come up.
Gal. Thanks be to Jupiter!
Hor. Well said; here’s some store.
Virg. What are they?
Hor. Glibbery, lubrical, and defunct.
Gal. O, they came up easy.
Tib. What’s that?
Hor. Nothing yet.
Mec. Magnificate! That came up somewhat hard.
Hor. Ay. What cheer, Crispinus?
Cris. O! I shall cast up my———spurious———snotteries———
Hor. Good. Again.
Hor. That clumsie stuck terribly.
Mec. What’s all that, Horace?
Hor. Spurious, snotteries, chilblain’d, clumsie.
Tib. O Jupiter!
Gal. Who would have thought there should have been such a deal of
filth in a poet?
Cris. O———balmy froth———
Caes. What’s that?
Hor. Balmy, froth, puffie, inflate, turgidous, and ventosity are
Tib. O terrible windy words.
Gal. A sign of a windy brain.
Hor. Here’s a deal; oblatrant, furibund, fatuate, strenuous.
Caes. Now all’s come up, I trow. What a tumult he had in his belly?
Hor. No, there’s the often conscious damp behind still.
Hor. It is come up, thanks to Apollo and AEsculapius: another; you
were best take a pill more.
Cris. O, no; O———O———O———O———O!
Hor. Force yourself then a little with your finger.
Tib. Prorumped I What a noise it made! as if his spirit would have
prorumpt with it.
Virg. Help him, it sticks strangely, whatever it is.
Hor. Now it is come; clutcht.
Caes. Clutcht! it is well that’s come up; it had but a narrow
Virg. Again! hold him, hold his head there.
Cris. Snarling gusts———quaking custard.
Hor. How now, Crispinus?
It’s instructive too to see the words that took hold and those that didn’t. If Shakespeare had been even half as much a coiner of new words as some people make out it certainly wouldn’t have escaped the notice of his contemporaries, especially Jonson. As for his greatness Shakespeare has always, since at least Dryden in the 17th century, been praised or denigrated in extremes (see Tolstoy for an example of the latter ("an insignificant, inartistic writer"). Shakespeare’s reputation stands aloof, impervious to it all.