My son and I have different opinions on the relevancy of Shakespeare in our modern world. Greg thinks Shakespeare’s works have become irrelevant and would prefer to study more modern writers who have written about issues that have shaped our modern world.
He would rather study 1984 by George Orwell which is about totalitarianism, discrimination, tracking and other issues that, in his opinion, are still a concern today. He sees Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury as being relevant because he does not see people burning books in Western society.
I disagree with Greg on both counts but I am limiting this post to my thoughts about the relevancy of Shakespeare, who just happens to be one of my favourite authors.
These are the reasons that I think it is still worthwhile for students to study literature:
We quote Shakespeare all the time
Shakespeare invented over 1700 of our common words. He did this by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising entirely original words.
Some of my favourite Shakespeare originated words are green-eyed, assassination, bloodstained, lustrous and obscene.
In addition to all the words Shakespeare invented, he also put words together in new ways to create phrases and idioms. Most people know the famous quotes which are commonly attributed to Shakespeare including:
- All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts;
- Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them; and
- How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!
Many people don’t realise, however, that many everyday sayings are attributable to Shakespeare such as be all and end all, catch a cold, heart of gold and to much of a good thing.
His works are universal and enduring as are his characters
Shakespeare’s plays portray timeless themes of human experience and interaction that have remained relevant since his death. They are also considered to be among the most expertly written and beautifully poetic works in the history of literature.
The outstanding features of Shakespeare’s play are as follows:
- Characterization: Shakespeare created very real and intense characters who deeply feel all of their emotions. This makes them alive and real to the reader and/or audience;
- Language: As detailed above, Shakespeare contributed a significant number of words, phrases and idioms to the English language. His usage of language was masterful and make his works enduring and memorable;
- Range of plays: Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and collaborated on several more. His plays comprised of comedies, histories, tragedies and sonnets. Nearly all of his work was of an extraordinary high quality of excellence which is one of the reasons his plays are still studied by students of literature;
- Shakespeare has had a massive influence on literary culture: In addition to the use by modern writers of his words, idioms and phases in their work, allusions to Shakespeare and his plays have influenced a number of well-known subsequent literary works including the following:
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (allusions to Macbeth/King Lear);
- The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (Richard III);
- The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth (Julius Caesar);
- Love in Idleness by Amanda Craig (A Midsummer Night’s Dream);
- The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (Macbeth);
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (The Tempest);
- Cakes and Ale by W Somerset Maugham (Twelfth Night);
- The Black Price by Iris Murdoch (Hamlet);
- Wise Children by Angela Carter (The Taming of the Shrew et al); and
- A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (King Lear);
- Exciting plots: Shakespeare’s plots are exciting and are filled with romance, horror, bloodshed, family feuds, fairies, ghosts, witches and comedy.
What is your view? Do you think Shakespeare is still relevant? If not, what would you have preferred to study instead?
About Roberta Eaton Cheadle
I am an author who has recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my young adult and adult writing, these will be published under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first young adult supernatural novel, Through the Nethergate, has recently been published.
I also have two short paranormal stories in Whispers of the Past, a paranormal anthology edited by Kaye Lynne Booth.
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The Gamma Sequence, by Dan Alatorre is a non-stop action, futuristic medical thriller. The suspense begins to build on the very first page and keeps on ratcheting up the tension from there, with twists and turns that will keep readers on their toes.
Hamilton DeShear is a private detective and former cop, who isn’t looking for a mystery to solve. But when the mysterious Lanaya Kim arrives on the scene claiming to need his help, how can he refuse? There’s no turning back once his apartment goes up in flames and the game turns personal. Soon enough people are shooting at them, the stakes are raised and it will take all of DeShear’s skill and expertise to keep them alive. Genetic research is the name of the game, but not everyone is playing by the same rules. Things aren’t always what they seem, and this certainly appears to be the case here. There’s a killer on the loose, who is targeting the scientists who worked on a secretive project which Lanaya was involved with, but can DeShear unravel the mystery and figure out what is going on before he and Lanaya are taken out of the game?
The Gamma Sequence will be available next month as a part of the Do No Harm medical thriller box set. You can preorder now.
Nail biting suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The Gamma Sequence does everything a good thriller should. I give it five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
There are many wonderful classic books available to people who are interested in reading them. I have recently re-read War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, both by H.G. Wells and also Dracula by Bram Stoker. I read these books in my early teens and, while I did enjoy them, I don’t remember appreciating any of the subtleties of the development of the characters in these books or the psychological and philosophical aspects either. This is because I did not have the life experience at that time to appreciate these concepts and their incredible appropriateness and cleverness.
I have never restricted or limited my children’s reading choices. This is because I believe that children can only experience and visualise the written world in the context of their own life experiences. If a child has never attended a funeral, they cannot visualise the white and haggard faces of the surviving family, smell the heavy and potent aroma of the funeral flowers or understand extreme expressions of grief such as throwing oneself onto a coffin as it is slowly lowered into the ground, in the same way someone who as actually witnessed such events could. They can read and appreciate the words but their ability to picture the detail is limited to their own visual experiences. This is not the case with television which supplies a ready-made visual to put the image into your mind regardless of your own experience. It is for this reason that I think that abridged classics are appropriate, and even ideal, for children.
Abridged classics expose children to the joys of great literature and enable them to appreciate their stories without struggling to understand words and concepts that are beyond their current reading and life abilities. In other words, abridged classics stimulate an interest in the storyline and characters while not burdening the child with all the deep emotion and psychology that is present in many classic books. If the child is excited by the story, there is a high chance he will revisit the book as an adult and read the full, unabridged version with greater understanding and appreciation.
If you are interested in purchasing the Classic Starts books, you can find them on Amazon US here: Classic Starts series
I bought all the Classic Starts books as well as a set of abridged Shakespearean plays and Chaucer’s stories for my son. My older son was mesmerised by certain stories such as The Phantom of the Opera, The Secret Garden and The Red Badge of Courage. I well remember him recalling these books with such fondness that a few years later, when he was about 13 years old, he read the unabridged versions of these books with great enthusiasm. He also went on to read a significant number of other classic books and represent South Africa as part of the St John’s College Prep team at the Kids Lit Quiz in New Zealand in 2016. I remember Gregory laughing aloud over the abridged versions of Canterbury Tales and The Taming of the Shrew. I do think these cultural experiences of English help set him up with a love of reading for life.
Reading abridged classics also allows children to access books that have been written in old English and are difficult for modern children [and adults] to read for that reason. These books allow us all access to humorous, dramatically and other situations from the past and allow us to learn more about our own history and path of evolution and change.
I believe there is a lot of benefit to be had from reading abridged classics to your child and letting them read them on their own. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
About Robbie Cheadle
Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with five published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
I have recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.
I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Find Robbie Cheadle
Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads
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Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books
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