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Shakespeare's Art: Why we continue to study the bard

By Edited Feb 3, 2016 3 0

William Shakespeare is not just

William Shakespeare
a major literary figure in the country of his birth; his plays and poetry are still being studied and discussed throughout the entire world. It is interesting, therefore, to pause a moment and consider why this man's work continues to exert such a powerful influence over so many people almost four hundred years after his death. Perhaps the best way to do that is to consider some of the themes and issues he explored in his writings.

Shakespeare was born into a relatively prosperous family in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1582. His father, John, was successful enough in his trade as a glover maker to afford his son a good education, which was something of a privilege at that time. William attended Kings Grammar School and obtained a solid education which exposed him to the ideas of great classical thinkers and the works of influential dramatist such as Seneca and Plautus. Many of Shakespeare's plays were influenced by his study and clear enjoyment of classical literature.

In his lifetime, Shakespeare wrote almost forty plays, which can be broadly categorised into comedies, tragedies and historical plays as well as a collection of sonnets - a form of romantic poetry he adapted to his own artistic style. He observed Aristotle's classical rules for drama but was unafraid in his art to adapt these to suit the tastes of contemporary audiences. It is the themes of Shakespeare's plays that have made them endure throughout the centuries. His tragedies deal with issues which are vitally relevant to us today; for example: the complexities of love and friendship in every form, whether between men and women, parents and children, siblings, colleagues or friends. He delved deeply into human emotions and how these manifested in a multitude of profound and complex ways, such as jealousy and deception, possessiveness, pride, anger, foolishness and many, many more. In all his plays he explored important issues such as loyalty, duty, honour, marriage, trust, honesty and societal expectations as well as what happens to the human psyche when these are threatened or undermined. These are merely a few of the reasons why the works of this playwright are held in such esteem today.

Perhaps the fact that Shakespeare was a successful actor in his own plays
Elizabethan theatre
gave him greater insights than most playwrights into staging and the dramatic effects of lanaguage. Without stage directions and all the sophisticated special effects available to us today, everything depended upon the way the actors used words for effect. Shakespeare's art as a wordsmith of the highest order and the poetic effects of his language are profoundly evidident in all his plays. He developed the lyrical iambic pentameter - a measured and elevated meter that added poetic depth rather than artificiality to speech.

Shaskespeare has
Reconstructed Globe Theatre, London
had a major influence on the English language and expressions coined by him abound in everyday speech. Hardly any literary work - novel, play, film, even soap opera - does not contain some reference or homage to Shakespeare's art. William Shakespeare may have died in 1616, but his art has touched millions of lives since then and will continue to do so for many centuries to come.


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