Is Shakespeare still relevant 400 hundred years after his death?

Bust of Shakespeare at The Globe Theatre, London

My son and I have different opinions on the relevancy of Shakespeare in our modern world. Greg thinks Shakespeare’s works have become irrelevant and would prefer to study more modern writers who have written about issues that have shaped our modern world.

He would rather study 1984 by George Orwell which is about totalitarianism, discrimination, tracking and other issues that, in his opinion, are still a concern today. He sees Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury as being relevant because he does not see people burning books in Western society.

I disagree with Greg on both counts but I am limiting this post to my thoughts about the relevancy of Shakespeare, who just happens to be one of my favourite authors.

These are the reasons that I think it is still worthwhile for students to study literature:

We all quote Shakespeare all the time

Shakespeare invented over 1700 of our common words. He did this by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising entirely original words.

Some of my favourite Shakespeare originated words are green-eyed, assassination, bloodstained, lustrous and obscene.

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44 thoughts on “Is Shakespeare still relevant 400 hundred years after his death?

      1. Hi Jack, you are right, he is young. He is actually very academic but prefers book with greater political relevancy. I think it is his age of just over 17. I recently read 1066, what a great book. I really enjoyed it. I will be writing up my review this weekend.

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    1. Haha, John, Greg is entitled to his opinion he is 17 years old. He has some interesting ideas on the story lines in the complex computer games his age group all play and how they have taken over the literary world. It is interesting to hear what Generation Z think about things. I love Shakespeare, especially The Taming of the Shrew which I find hilarious.

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  1. Yes I agree Robbie but I wonder which are the newest authors who should be studied. 1984 was written a long time ago and I can remember at school when 1984 was far in the future. Though it is more relevant than ever, not only is Big Brother watching us with CCTV but people have to be very careful what they say or risk being vilified! Constantly unthinking and respeaking.

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    1. I love Shakespeare and Chaucer to so I am immobile in my views, Janet. I respect Greg’s views though, he is very academic and thoughtful. He likes fantasy and loved Lord of the Rings, he just doesn’t appreciate Shakespeare’s extraordinariness for his time. He sees Shakespeare’s story lines as being well used which they are, but the other usages followed Shakespeare’s which he doesn’t appreciate.

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  2. I also have to have a bet each way … I see the relevance of both choices!

    But as a Shakespeare fan, he was the first to describe PTSD in his depiction of Lady Macbeth, he is a master … but those other books are also super relevant. Maybe give the students a choice?

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    1. I think the schools enforce a spectrum so that the kids are exposed to a vast array of different authors and writings. I think that is correct at a school level. There is time to specialise later when the student is more mature. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

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  3. Relevant is trend. Plot and story are timeless. One can lay Shakespeare over any conspiracy theory, love story, farce. All that changes are the foes and the clothes. The song remains the same. Be sure he understands that lest he be beguiled into believing the wheel is being reinvented.

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  4. Robbie, I happened to have save a whole year’s worth of my daughter’s book reviews when she was in 8th. She had to write analysis, what her likes and dislikes, the pros and cons of the authors’ views, her alternative endings (if it was a novel). It was great that Greg formed his opinions about William Shakespeare instead of agreeing with everyone because Shakespeare was a great writer.

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  5. Ah, Shakespeare! Yes, he is as relevant now as ever. Every year we head over to Vancouver’s “Bard on the Beach” – We have a full season of Shakespeare, under the bright tents on a beach overlooking Vancouver skyline (regrettably the 2020 season was canceled due to Covid19). But what I find most exciting is the youth program, which brings out the best of Shakespeare for young people I think that Shakespeare needs to become an emotional attachment that comes from reading aloud, reciting, being activity involved in a play, whether acting or in stage production. While dissecting Shakespeare is important, the vibrancy of participation is so invigorating. Consider Patrick Steward reading a Shakespeare sonnet every day. Shakespeare reminds us to live boldly, remembering that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” A great post and discussion!!

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    1. Thank you for the link and for letting me know about this. It sounds amazing. I agree that Shakespeare is best enjoyed as a performance and in gatherings of like minded people. I would love to attend something like this and will remember it for when we eventually visit Canada. We do have family there.

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      1. This is wonderful news! You must come to Canada. I have decided to read Shakespeare out loud in nature. For several years I have been reading poetry out loud to an empty room and found that is was akin to meditation. Now, I’m thinking of reciting Shakespeare outside. It is rather intimidating – after all it’s Shakespeare. One step forward into a new adventure. I always hold my breath….and as Joseph Campbell said so well: If you are falling….dive.” I am delighted that we have connected!!! Have a great weekend.

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  6. I think all writing, no matter when, shapes the wold we live in. Nor is it an either/or situation. Yes 1984 and similar modern novels are relevant today, but so is Shakespeare who has a lot to say on the world we are currently facing, as we are facing similar issues that humanity has always had to face in some degree. Shakespeare’s relevancy is demonstrated by how his plays can be set in almost any era. Watch Ian McKellen’s film version of Richard III to see how relevant and applicable it is to Twentieth Century history, and also to our current time period.

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    1. Thanks for adding your thoughts, Joanne. I agree that Shakespeare’s themes are timeless. Lots of his works are being re-written into modernised settings which is really nice. Thanks for the tip about the film, I haven’t seen it.

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  7. I love me some B.S.! His work is timeless and we can thank him for so many catchphrases originally coined by him that we still use today! Untold numbers of authors and scriptwriters rework his works into modern versions. And his original works still capture my imagination and my undying attention!

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  8. Interesting conversation.
    I don’t really have a preference. I think both add a viewpoint that is worth exploring. However, I might favour Shakespeare’s simply because there is a wisdom in his words that appeals to me more.

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  9. I like your reasoning – I’ve only read a little Shakespeare (what was required in high school), so I feel like I should read more.

    But maaaan it’s hard to read works old enough that the language is so different!

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    1. That is true, H. I always read the books that have the old English on one page with the modern English on the other. It makes that struggle easier and once the English is demystified, I can then appreciate the flow and rhythm of the original words.

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  10. The thing is, there are no new issues. The means used to carry out agendas, ideologies, and a myriad of other ambitions has simply changed. ie: social media has replaced billboards . . . There is nothing new under the sun.


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