If you studied English at school in the last five hundred years, you probably know who Shakespeare is. We’ve all been through the pain - The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream… unfortunately, the list goes on and on.
I’ll be honest - I never understood what all the fuss was about. When my mother went to the UK on work and visited his birthplace, I told her to burn the house down on my behalf - a fitting revenge for the suffering it caused me for two whole years. All I saw were pages and pages of strange and mind-bending English, dozens of quotes to remember. And here’s the thing - that’s what almost every other ordinary high school student saw as well - what’s the hype? Why, five hundred years later, are we still studying this old dead guy’s seemingly pretty boring work? Why can’t we do something that’s actually relevant to our lives - maybe something written in the last one hundred years instead?
Today, those questions are answered - but first, a little about the man himself.
Considered by many as the greatest dramatist and playwright of all time, William Shakespeare was born almost a whopping half a millennia ago in 1564 in England. While the story of his rise to stardom isn’t known, records of performances indicate that by 1592, several of his plays were being staged in London. His plays were performed by the ‘Lord Chamberlain's Men’, later renamed the King’s Men, which soon became the leading playing company in London - unsurprisingly, since they had the best actor, theatre, and dramatist. For 20 years, he dedicated himself to his work, writing what would be some of the most famous written works in the world someday.
His plays were initially written in the predominant styles of the time, but he soon diverged from these and began to adapt them in his own way, distinguishing himself from several others at the time and before him.
Today, his works include 42 plays and poems - many of which you’ve probably read, watched, or heard of. But what makes them, and him, so very iconic? Let’s find out:
You Use His Words Without Realising It
You may not like his style of writing, but you’ve been influenced by it without even realising. Words like bedroom, eyeball, fashionable, beachy, characterless, critical, investment, dauntless, protester, useless, tardiness - he’s the man you owe them to! So the next time you’re critical of his work, lamenting about how boring it is, how useless it is, remember that three words in this sentence wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for him!
His Influence is Why Your Favourite Books, Movies, and Songs Exist Today
Shakespeare’s influence continues to exert itself on modern literature and film. He also completely transformed theatre in Europe, expanding what could be explored and accomplished, breaking glass ceiling after glass ceiling.
Shakespeare had a profound influence on your favourite authors as well - Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Maya Angelou being just a few names. Iconic movies as well, have been adapted from his works - ’10 Things I Hate About You’ is an adaptation of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, ‘The Lion King’, an adaptation of Hamlet.
Even in Bollywood, films such as Haider, Omkara, and Angoor are, in fact, retellings of Hamlet, Othello, and The Comedy of Errors respectively. So, the next time you watch them, remember - they were Shakespearean dramas first!
Songwriters and musicians take inspiration from Shakespeare’s poems and plays when thinking of lyrics for their songs. Taylor Swift referenced to Romeo and Juliet in her song “Love Story”. Similarly, many other songwriters have used lines from Shakespeare’s most famous plays.
Guess What - They’re Still Relevant
While you may not believe it, several of the issues and themes encompassed in Shakespeare’s broad spectrum of works are issues of our times as well. Gender inequality, racial prejudice, religious prejudice are common themes in his stories - even in those like The Merchant of Venice, infamous amongst ICSE students.
We can compare several modern-day situations to those in his stories because while we may think the world has transformed since it hasn’t. Racism, love, betrayal, sexism, greed, there are all universally known themes that remain relevant today.
Some of the Greatest Characters
Even as someone who despised Shakespeare for a long time, there’s no denying the beautiful complexity of his characters, as well as the reality in them. Very few characters are perfect - each has their flaws and strengths, backstories, monologues, and complexities. His characters have qualities that readers can identify with, and more importantly, their emotion-rich portrayal makes them even more capturing.
Shakespeare’s characters are more than a creation - they’re a commentary on ordinary people and their inner conflicts, feelings, and quirks.
In school, the word Shakespeare is often followed by “is killing me”, or “is so overrated”. But take a moment to read it as a reader rather than as a student, and you may find that the beauty of his works is beyond what the eye can see. Rather, it’s about what the reader feels - pain, elation, jealousy - along with the characters.
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Tishya Doraiswamy, Content Writer @ Skyshot Media