Is Shakespeare Still Relevant?

400 years later, we still appreciate the world's favourite playwright

By Caroline Stephenson in Study Break / Sat March 14, 2009


William Shakespeare is in the news again – this time an exciting revelation of a portrait, owned for 300 years by the Cobbe family, claimed to be the only known picture of the great playwright, painted during his lifetime.

How does this icon of English literature continually remain a firm fascination in the minds of modern day society? Despite departing this earth nearly 400 years ago, William Shakespeare’s legacy of written works (including 37 plays!) ensure his relevance to society, past and present never wanes.

We have all been introduced to this historical figure in one way or another, but there is always an opportunity to broaden your knowledge and understanding about The Bard and his inimitable talent for writing – and believe me, you won't be disappointed!

Here are 3 reasons that, for me, make the study of Shakespeare plays, a worthy experience:

Shakespearian Play (Clinton Steeds via Flickr)

1. The themes and ideas that emerge from his plays are timeless.

His characters and stories reveal universal truths about the human condition in a way we can all relate to; whether it is the tragic outcome of unchecked greed and ambition, an unrelenting desire for revenge, or the pursuit of love. His representation of human nature is just as real and as relevant today, as it has been through the centuries.

Shakespeare Books (RachelH_ via Flickr)

2. The brilliance of his language

For such a prolific writer, it is truly amazing that Shakespeare continually produced both poetry and prose of such a high standard! Though the language itself may seem a little daunting at first glance, a teacher or study guide will assist in helping you interpret the words, so you can fully appreciate and indeed marvel at their potency. Unlocking the key to Shakespeare’s language is a truly rewarding experience. You discover hidden gems of caustic wit “What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?” (Much Ado About Nothing), villainous deceit “Though I do hate him as I do hell’s pains, yet for necessity of present life, I must show out a flag and sign of love” (Othello), and impassioned declarations of love “ My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep. The more I give thee, the more I have, for both are infinite” (Romeo & Juliet). It is genuinely memorable, moving and mesmerizing. “His works teach us the power of words as an instrument of communication.”

 Shakespeare rehearsal (ellenm1 via Flickr)

3. Entertainment value

The content of Shakespeare’s plays offers the reader an enjoyable literary encounter; hence his works have stood the test of time. The reality is, he knows how to craft a good story – and his collection of plays covers a wide range of subject matter, appealing to all types of readers (war, religious conflict, racial prejudice, class division, love, death, betrayal...). The plot, characters and themes are cleverly and captivatingly weaved together, resulting in a tale that could be tragic, comedic, dramatic, passionate, thought-provoking – or perhaps encompassing all of these (Romeo & Juliet, for example). A successful writer keeps his reader engaged, explores pertinent issues, challenges thoughts and opinions, and uses effective language to convey the content. Shakespeare ticks all these boxes... and then some!