Why do we still study Shakespeare?

Shakespeare died more than 400 years ago & has written 37 plays and 154 sonnets. But why do we still study Shakespeare after all this time? 

When the First Folio of Shakespeare’s work was published in 1623 – fellow writers concluded that Shakespeare was ‘not of an age, but for all time’. As Bruce Smith, Professor of English at USC also comments; “Shakespeare reveals a different face to different cultures and different people at different times”. His works are universal and enduring, and we can all relate to the feelings evoked by his stories and recognise the mark that his characters leave. We can identify with Hamlet’s despondency, we can recognise Othello’s envy, and we can feel Lear’s decline. His characters are familiar yet at the same time they surprise us out of our complacency – and so they continue to spark interest and engagement. The same applies to the themes found within his works; they still resonate and provide key lessons to contemporary audiences, themes of: greed and ambition, a desire for revenge, corrupt politics, heartbreak and the pursuit of love are all weaved into the plots of his plays. 

The ability to read, understand, and analyse his prose allows readers to be able to unlock understanding to other great works. His plays have pathed the way for many modern re-inventions and adaptations of his work, many of our modern-day favourites and ‘classics’ have been re-worked from Shakespeare. Examples include:  West side story, 10 things I hate about you, Mean Girlsand even the Lion Kingcan all be connected to Shakespeare whether directly or merely coincidentally. 

As Trapp says, “Shakespeare’s plays have an openness to them”, “they inspire thought, and his capacious works invite reinvention”. The plots we think of as quintessentially Shakespearean – Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear and others – are all based on old stories, histories and myths that he reworked into his own material. Shakespeare was a master at adapting and his work was largely based on borrowing and interpretation. Therefore, it seems only fitting that his works have been reworked endlessly, this also helps to continue the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare. 

Shakespeare’s influence is far and wide, he is not just remembered as a famous playwright. He is accountable for almost 1,700 words and phrases found in the OED, so it is clear to see that he has had a profound effect and contribution not just to society but also to the English language itself. You have most likely quoted Shakespeare before and maybe even on a regular basis, with no awareness that you have. ‘Hood-winked’,‘tongue-tied’ ,‘in a pickle’, ‘break the ice’ and ‘be-all and end-all’ are all Shakespearean phrases that have become part of common, daily language. 

Despite this clear and significant impact, we mustn’t forget the main purpose of Shakespeare’s works:entertainment. He wrote his plays for enjoyment and therefore raises the question: if modern day audiences can tackle the flowery, poetic and apparently different language then surely, they will uncover not just hidden meaning but good plot, characters and relationships.

Hence, one important thing we can conclude from Shakespeare is: we can make meaning of our experiences; enhance our understanding of the English language and enjoy reading, watching and understanding his plays. 

To my future self

To Future Rebecca,

How’s life? We got good GCSES’s? Managed to have our first boyfriend yet? (yeah, I know it seems unlikely too) Let’s hope I’m still mature and kind, not too stressed!

And stop mothering your friends, live a little. At the time I’m writing this my birthday is in 39 days (not counting or anything) and will be 15. What? Where did those years go?! I’ll be driving, drinking, flying… thinking about uni. All these burning questions. Yet still be HAPPY! Keep your closest friends near they’re pretty damn awesome. Don’t forget about your family, put your social media on hold a second. 

Be bright. Be happy. Be you.  I ramble on, yet I hope I still love writing.

See you in a few years,

Rebecca xx

The above letter I penned to myself, signed and sealed on the 30thAugust 2016 – I then opened it this summer on the 30th August 2018. Now a whole new year again – 2019 and I can gladly say things are on the up again – I just have a feeling about it. 

It’s strange, isn’t it? To look back at our younger selves and to feel that a version of yourself can be so distant and unfamiliar, when that person couldn’t be more you than you, and at one point was the version of you. And someday in the future, you’ll look back and feel exactly the same way about who you are now. 

Even though we change as we grow, I guess many of us never really change on the innermost level, we simply develop and adapt different layers and perspectives upon things. We become a different version of ourselves, hopefully for the better. 

So almost 15-year-old me (as we were kindly informed) was full of questions and cringe worthy, cliché quotes. But amidst this was a nervous and unsure young woman – young me was content with life yet always knew there was a gap missing, a void. Perhaps the gap was uncertainty, anticipation for what I knew inevitably came next, or the fact that my relationships that I built up were slowly crumbling away. I wanted to be more certain of my future, not just my career and university but of new experiences and relationships. And yes – that is a lot for a 15-year-old to think about, but I like to plan! 

Just for clarity and peace of mind, the answers for the questions I asked myself:

  • I did get great GSCE’s
  • I currently have a boyfriend (he’s super cute!)
  • There are many opportunities on the horizon helping me to achieve my academic ambitions. 

But really the question I forgot to ask was: Are you happy? Of course, a lot of things I just mentioned greatly amount/amounted to my happiness, but are you comfortable with yourself? Are you confident in your own abilities and body? 

These questions are not easily answered and still at 17, I am not sure I have the definitive answers, but I’m getting there, and progress is progress whether slow or not. Important questions are meant to be asked over and over again because there a million ways to answer a question, and you never know when you’ll stumble upon a new or interesting one, and how it might fundamentally change you. 

So, this blog post is almost another time capsule. To more adventures and experiences…