“To be or not to be?”- Hamlet
That is the query that innumerable actors portraying Hamlet have pondered throughout the course of the previous four centuries on stage and television. It’s a query that practically everyone, regardless of their nationality or language, is pretty familiar with. Shakespeare, a dramatist with a wide audience, deserves our gratitude. On the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s passing, people from all around the world will commemorate his immortal works in April. There will be readings of his poems, plays, and new publications devoted to dissecting his prolific and revered writing.
So why does Shakespeare’s work continue to resonate with each generation?
“Shakespeare reveals a different face to different cultures and different people at different times,” explained Bruce Smith, Dean’s Professor of English and professor of theatre at USC. “When the First Folio of Shakespeare’s work was published in 1623, seven years after his death, Ben Johnson, who was a fellow writer, noted that Shakespeare was ‘not of an age, but for all time.’ That statement can be taken two ways: that the meaning of Shakespeare’s work is always the same or that it is always different. The second interpretation is the one that has been borne out.”
English literature’s most recognisable name is (perhaps) William Shakespeare. You will be familiar with some of his plays, such as Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, even if you haven’t heard of him. Beyond that, you may already be familiar with him if you’ve seen an actor talking to a skull, seen “West Side Story”, or seen “10 Things I Hate About You”. Few people dispute the fact that he is among the greatest writers to have ever lived, but why? Why is Shakespeare one of the few names that has endured through the ages in a society where “everyone is writing a book” (Cicero said that in roughly 100 BC, and it is still true today, two thousand years later)?
William Shakespeare: Who was he?
In the year 1564, William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Although the Shakespeare was not from an aristocratic family, William was presumably sent to the neighbourhood grammar school as a youngster because his father held responsibilities in local administration. He got married at the age of eighteen to an Anne Hathaway (not that one!), and they later settled in London. He gained notoriety in the city first as an actor, then as a playwright. While his wife and children remained in Stratford, he divided his time between London and his hometown. Shakespeare is not remembered in our culture because of his relatives or a historic incident. His work is what has given him such a stellar reputation. But what makes it so unique?
6 Reasons Why Shakespeare is Still Relevant Today:
- Shakespeare’s themes: Shakespeare’s plays frequently address significant, enduring issues. Things like treachery, death, love, and life. Even though he writes about them in a little ironic style and in the backdrop of a 400-year-old England, the subjects nevertheless apply to us today. “To be or not to be” is the opening line of one of the most famous speeches ever delivered. In the midst of incapacitating grief, a young man struggles with issues related to death and the hereafter. The audience will still be greatly affected by the intensity and rawness of the words, regardless of the situation, time, or location in which the monologue is performed. The declarations of love made by Romeo and Juliet are among the most exquisite in the English literary canon. And many contemporary viewers can still relate to their story of a forbidden connection. Therefore, the themes Shakespeare addresses in his plays are ones that people from all periods of history can identify with. The fact that we keep finding ourselves in the situations he describes is why he is so popular today.
- Shakespeare’s characters: Although the plays’ topics are universal, what is perhaps more amazing is how relatable the characters are. Even though Shakespeare’s plays were written at the beginning of the 17th century, it’s not difficult for modern viewers to recognise at least one character in them. What an amazing thing! Viola, Sebastian and Duke from She’s the Man are all believable high schoolers in the mid-2000s, but they’re actually based on characters from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. Creating men and women who are able to slot into modern American football teams, or wield pistols instead of swords is no mean feat, but Shakespeare achieved it over and over again. His characters are beloved, despised, laughed at and most importantly remembered for their relatability.
- Shakespeare’s impact on linguistics: Shakespeare is still significant for individuals who are more interested in mastering the English language than in reading its literature. This is as a result of his contributions to the creation of expressions that are now commonly used. Shakespeare was quite influential in shaping the language that we use today. Shakespeare is to be thanked if you have ever used the phrase “all of a sudden” or referred to envy as “the green-eyed monster.” In fact, he coined 422 new words, including the phrases bump, lonely, and upstairs. That’s not to suggest that without Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have terms for these things. However, the sheer volume of new terms and expressions he created makes him a fundamental figure in the development of our language.
- Shakespeare’s impact on theatre: The lead role in a Shakespearean production is a career-defining and noteworthy accomplishment for many contemporary actors. His plays were staged in the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan theatre that still stands as a symbol of London’s vibrant cultural heritage. Shakespeare plays performed live on stage are an unparalleled experience. Wherever you reside, you can find productions of his plays, but nothing completely captures the magic of the original like an outdoor production.
- Shakespeare has been a profitable brand for hundreds of years: Shakespeare’s likeness was adopted as the publisher Jacob Tonson’s corporate emblem in 1710, and Tonson used the Bard’s image on his bookshop sign, in advertisements, and on editions of Shakespeare’s works he published, setting off a trend. Shakespeare’s reputation has remained strong for the past four centuries. In actuality, it’s pervasive.
- His works are universal and enduring, as are his characters: Shakespeare’s writings are poignant, funny, and witty. But above all, Shakespeare was a master at giving his stories and characters traits that viewers and readers could relate to, such as Hamlet’s pain, Ophelia’s distress, and Romeo and Juliet’s eternal love. “His characters… are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find,” Samuel Johnson remarked in the foreword to The Plays of Shakespeare (1765).
P.S- His likeness remains a mystery: Shakespeare’s likeness has been portrayed numerous times, but his exact appearance is unknown. His work was never accompanied by any printed portraits that were created during his lifetime. The engraving by Martin Droeshout, which made its debut in 1623 on the title page of the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays known as the First Folio, is the one that most people are familiar with. But as Erin C. Blake pointed out in the guide’s section on “Likenesses: Prints and Portraits,” the First Folio’s editors were the Bard’s friends and associates. They were familiar with his appearance and would not have accepted a depiction that significantly departed from the person they knew.