Is there a literate person today who has not heard of Shakespeare? Is there a student of the English language who has not read Shakespeare? Seems rhetorical, right? His works have influenced many a writer to become better. His stories have been captivating and his capture of human emotion is unbelievable! Indeed, as Ben Johnson has put it, “He was not of an age, but for all time”.
Yes, his writings have been relevant to his time then, as they are to our time now, and they will be for times to come. This is why:
1. Expression of human emotions
Shakespeare was a master craftsman when it came to creating characters and their emotions. Each and every actor in his play, irrespective of the length and importance of the role was the closest portrayal of true human nature. His perception of humankind and their strengths and weaknesses is unsurpassed. Man will remain who he is and so will his emotions. Every essence of all human nature has been captured by the Bard in a very memorable way. T. S. Elliot has said of him, “I do not believe that any writer has ever exposed this bovarysme, the human will to see things as they are not, more clearly than Shakespeare.”
2. Mastery of Language
Many a time we end up quoting the timeless phrases of Shakespeare to justify our emotions. His verses have touched millions of hearts across centuries and will continue to do so. His mastery of the language was such that he could write a complex sentence yet could be understood by a layman. It is poetic and yet simple. D H Lawrence sums it correctly, “When I read Shakespeare I am struck with wonder that such trivial people should muse and thunder in such lovely language.”
3. Great and timeless stories
His stories are across genres. He has written on romance as well as jealousy, on revenge as well as politics. The plots and the sub-plots within each story have you gripped even before you know it. His writings transcend generations and are still loved. Many of his works have been made into movies with a modern context. His characters have stolen our hearts and captured our imaginations as no other has. They could as well be a walking encyclopedia of human emotions all battling with one other. He is the source of inspiration for many writers. Many have even been inspired by his characters, like the well known Moby Dick has shades of King Lear. Need anymore be said?
4. Invention of language
He was probably one of the very few writers who felt so limited by the language of his time that he had to invent words and phrases to keep his story running. If there is a “cliché” that you use, it was probably invented by him. Unbelievable? Take a look, words such as ‘amazement’, ‘dexterously’, ‘assassination’, ‘premeditated’, ‘dislocate’, etc. are but a few words that he introduced into the language. If you still feel his writing “is all Greek”, then that is also his contribution. “Without rhyme or reason” if you have been “tongue tied”, then also you are using his words. It is estimated that close to 3000 words and phrases that we use today originated in Shakespearean verses and sonnets. You still think his writing is irrelevant?
If quality of English writing has to be improved, then somewhere along the way, study of classics is inevitable. Classics are classics for a reason. They are timeless and eternal. Their themes and characters will always be special not only to the language but also to the people who read the stories, no matter what era they belong to. Among all classics, Shakespeare stands like a giant. His writings are and always will be relevant, no matter what. As Ralph Waldo Emerson expresses, “Nor sequent centuries could hit Orbit and sum of Shakespeare’s wit”.