Some people, especially individuals who have been assigned the works of Shakespeare as school assignments, have wondered about whether or not Shakespeare is still relevant. The relevance of Shakespeare and many other writers and artists who worked in previous eras is also a popular topic among educators and researchers who focus on literature. Many people argue that the enduring popularity of Shakespeare is a testimony to his relevance, and that additionally, he has made major contributions not only to the English language, but to the way in which people think and behave. Shakespeare has quite literally shaped society in many ways, making Shakespeare relevant in a very real way.
From a purely linguistic standpoint, Shakespeare is most definitely relevant. Shakespeare introduced thousands of words and phrases to the English language, along with new concepts and grammatical structures. While Shakespeare's language sometimes seems antiquated to modern eyes, it was quite daring and forward thinking for the time, and Shakespeare literally coined words to describe previously unimaginable situations and events, thereby enriching the English language immensely. People who wonder what makes Shakespeare relevant might want to consider that many common phrases, from “primrose path” to “all's well that ends well,” come from Shakespeare's works.
His explorations of poetic form and grammar also expanded the scope of English, laying the groundwork for other authors who worked after him. Shakespeare's work also transcended traditional boundaries. His tragedies, for example, include a great deal of comic relief, in a marked departure from the traditional presentation of tragedies. Likewise, his comedies included deeply tragic and very human moments. While the mixture of genres is widely acceptable and sometimes even expected today, it wasn't in the days of Shakespeare, and it was a radical shift in the way that plays were presented.
The characterization in Shakespeare also stands out, making Shakespeare relevant on a personal level to many people. His plays continue to be performed not because Shakespeare is famous, but because his characters feel very vivid and alive to viewers. While they may be kings, queens, and princes, they struggle with the same issues that many playgoers do, and they have very multidimensional human characterizations on the stage which people can associate with. The stories of Shakespeare are timeless, as proved by the fact that many of the themes which he deals with come up again and again in modern literature, film, and theater.
Shakespeare had a number of contemporaries, some of whom were quite talented, but it is his work which has endured to be performed and celebrated for centuries. For English speakers and residents of English-speaking nations, what makes Shakespeare relevant is the fact that the world would be very different without him. Shakespeare's plays and sonnets have contributed in a major way to modern society, from behaviors which have been shaped by the object lessons found in Shakespeare to the words and sentence structures used in this very article.
Five Reasons Why Shakespeare Is Still Relevant
Although he lived 400 years ago, Shakespeare still remains quite relevant today. Here are just a few reasons why.
1. His Themes are Timeless
The themes Shakespeare worked into his plays and sonnets resonated with fans during his lifetime and continue to do so today. Themes of love, death, rebirth, and power are all ideas that continue to be just as relevant to readers now as they were back then.
2. Shakespeare As a Brand
Believe it or not, Shakespeare has become quite profitable as a brand over the centuries. You can find Shakespeare's likeness on all manner of products, from chocolate to bookstore signs. In addition, quotes from his works often find a home on t-shirts, notebooks, and other novelty products.
3. Contributions to Language
Shakespeare invented more than 1,700 words and idioms that the world still uses today. Phrases such as "fight fire with fire" or "wear your heart on your sleeve" and the words "suspicious," "lonely," and "critic" are just a few examples of the things Shakespeare contributed to the English language.
4. Effects on the Cosmos
27 moons orbit Uranus, five of which bear the names of characters from Shakespeare's plays. Titania, Oberon, Miranda, Ariel, and Puck are all characters from either The Tempest or A Midsummer Night's Dream.
5. He's Still Controversial
Many people still question whether Shakespeare actually wrote the plays that are attached to his name. Of course, a controversy such as this will persist through generations, so it's no surprise people still debate whether he penned all of the things he claims.
How Did Shakespeare Impact the World?
Anyone in the literary or theater worlds will tell you that Shakespeare's impact on those fields is everlasting. But it's important to acknowledge the ways in which his timeless work has affected the world at large, too.
You likely benefit from Shakespeare's contributions to the world on a daily basis. For example, if you've ever become tongue-tied or suspicious, you can thank Shakespeare for articulating those things in such a way that allows you to accurately convey them.
In addition, his writing style is still widely revered by authors, playwrights, and readers. Shakespeare's works have been made and remade into books and movies dozens, if not hundreds, of times, with new adaptations always on the horizon.
For example, did you know West Side Story and O are actually movie adaptations of Romeo & Juliet and Othello, respectively? Shakespeare's works continue to inspire writers today, a trend that doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Shakespeare’s Themes Still Relevant Today
Shakespeare's works are filled with themes that most people today can relate to. Some of his main themes include:
- Appearance and Reality
- Good and Evil
- Order and Disorder
Any book you pick up or movie you turn on will undoubtedly have themes you can find on this list. In addition, you'll find recurring images in Shakespeare's works, such as the presence of blood in Macbeth or the contrast of light and dark in Romeo & Juliet.
The most interesting thing about Shakespeare's themes is that they're both everlasting and ever-changing. Themes of ambition, love, death, and so forth persist, but the meaning readers or viewers pull from that theme will evolve over time.
Romeo & Juliet is an excellent example of the shifting meaning of themes in Shakespeare's work. Even though this play was written as a tragedy, many viewers and readers saw the two main characters as archetypal lovers. However, as time went on and people began to apply contemporary standards to this story, the theme of love has shifted away from idyllic and into tragic.