I remember back in high school whenever my English teacher would announce that we were starting the Shakespeare unit, everyone groaned loudly. Now I may be abnormal here but I really didn’t mind reading Shakespeare (as long as I didn’t have to read it out loud). Of course, it was hard to understand at first (in grade 9) but by grade 12 it wasn’t so bad. I even took out Hamlet just for fun from the library this summer and understood it with minimal use of SparkNotes. I’ve read five Shakespeare plays in my life: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Hamlet. I enjoyed pretty much all of these plays. I mean Romeo and Juliet wasn’t my fave but it was still better than Lord of the Flies, which was the novel I read for English class the same year. This might be because I like English but I have a hard time understanding why so many people don’t like Shakespeare.
One of the reasons I enjoy Shakespeare is because he tells really great stories with really great characters. I think Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play. It’s funny, fantastical, an adventure, and even a little emotional. It’s a pretty good story about going to fulfill a prophecy and doing whatever it takes to make sure the prophecy comes true even if a lot of bad s**t happens along the way. Shakespeare’s stories always find a way to draw you in and keep reading whether it’s through a duel or a shocking character death or a sudden plot twist. You may have your own opinions on Shakespeare’s stories and whether or not you like them but there is no denying that he could write a good storyline. After all, he needed to keep the audience interested since his stories were written as a play to be performed on stage, not necessarily to be read on their own centuries later. And hey, if they weren’t good stories, why are we still reading/telling them 400 years later? Shakespeare’s characters are also pretty relatable. I challenge you to NOT find a character you can relate to the next time you read a Shakespeare play. Take Romeo and Juliet for example: we’ve all done stupid things for love and it’s something everyone can relate to. Even traits that Shakespeare’s characters tend to possess – ambition, honesty, foolishness, naivety, confidence, etc – are all personality traits that we all have (or at least have seen in others). But the complexity of the plot and the characters is what really makes Shakespeare’s stories really great to read.
You can argue all you want about this but in my opinion, Shakespeare’s use of language is absolutely beautiful. The prose that reads like poetry, the sonnets and poems and rhymes within the plays, the gorgeous metaphors, and even the long winded character speeches are just so well crafted it’s hard not to get lost in the words. Shakespeare always seems to have just the right word in the right place. Shakespeare can create a comedic moment in the middle of a tragedy or create a whole personality for a character just by choosing the right words. This is so important in everyday writing. Even though it may be difficult to understand at first, as I said previously, the more you read it the easier it gets and you can understand and appreciate just how beautiful the writing is.
400 years later, Shakespeare’s work has somehow managed to influence not only our English classes but also pop culture. There have been movie adaptations of his plays and movies that are based on his plays (West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet, 10 Things I Hate About You is based on Taming of the Shrew, and She’s the Man is based on Twelfth Night to name a few). There are Shakespeare references in TV and theatre and even Disney movies. There are also even theatre companies and festivals that are dedicated to performing Shakespeare’s plays in 2016. So next time someone says Shakespeare is old and outdated just look around and you’ll see that he’s alive and well even today.
So next time you read a Shakespeare play (or even a poem), whether you want to or you have to, maybe try and look at all the good things about what you’re reading rather than dwelling on the fact that it wasn’t written in the 21st century and complaining he’s irrelevant. I really think there’s a lot of good things about Shakespeare and focusing on the good things might make reading Shakespeare more enjoyable.