How do the words of a dead man affect you? In Shakespeare’s case, the ways could be countless. This year marked the Bard’s 450th birthday, and consequently raised the following question: are his works still relevant today?
The answer is simple — yes. Shakespeare’s literature is every bit as relevant to our modern society as it was to the average bloke of Elizabethan England. Through prose and plot he established timeless themes, coined new words and sparked centuries of adaptations.
Some argue that Shakespeare’s works are outdated, as they fail to mirror modern life. This simply isn’t true. Every year, authors release adaptations of his iconic dramas and comedies, transforming messengers from the Renaissance age into smartphones, and daggers into guns.
Every summer Bard on the Beach, a Shakespeare festival here in Vancouver, presents both traditional and modern re-enactments of plays that bring to life truisms of our society. Modern adaptations also allow for new generations to connect to the characters and stories in a different way, and bring about new interpretations.
To those who claim we can ignore Shakespeare, or write him off as a relic of literary past, I say that an understanding of his works is needed if you wish to fully understand many stories from the 20th and 21st centuries. There are countless authors and filmmakers who have included references to the Bard’s work in their own, and who have built their plots as a branch from his.
The argument that Shakespeare is just too tough to read is nothing more than laziness.
Aldous Huxley used the title Brave New World for his acclaimed novel, in reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Lion King, a well-known and loved children’s movie, is based off the iconic play Hamlet. To enrich the modern experience, one must read and study Shakespeare to pick up on references other great authors have made.
From a purely linguistic point of view, Shakespeare remains indispensable to the English language. He coined new phrases, words, and grammatical concepts in all of his works. If you’ve ever been told “the world is your oyster” or “neither a borrower nor a lender be,” then you’re hearing people reiterate just a few of the phrases Shakespeare crafted in his scripts. We must examine these scripts if we wish to understand how modern English was developed.
Some argue that Shakespeare’s writing is antiquated and difficult to read, and should therefore be abandoned — but that just isn’t a good enough reason to rob our society of his literature. There are certainly sections where the words and grammar are difficult to follow, but do we really want to tell the next generation of readers not to bother because it’s too hard?
The argument that Shakespeare is just too tough to read is nothing more than laziness. We should push ourselves to understand Shakespeare’s early modern style; otherwise we are suggesting that if something seems difficult, it’s not worth pursuing.
Storytelling is a structure that borrows the best blocks of the past to build a more fantastic and entertaining literary future. If you cut a row of blocks from the bottom, you risk the collapse of enlightened literary possibilities. Shakespeare laid the groundwork for English literature that would follow centuries after his death. The lively plots, variety of characters, and hilarious wit make it so everyone can find a part of the story to relate too. So take the time to read, appreciate, and reflect on Shakespeare’s works. I promise you won’t regret it.