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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