Clayton Tomlinson, Contributor
William Shakespeare is the pinnacle of achievement in English drama and is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers of the English language.
His plays and poems are favoured and studied predominantly in English-speaking schools, because they contain timeless and universal themes expressed in magnificent words.
Yet, like other long-standing institutions, he has faced criticism by many who argue we should make room for the study of other writers, perspectives and voices. While new work continues to be admitted to the literary canon, the complexity and continued relevance of his work should ensure Shakespeare a seat among the works studied in academia.
Shakespeare deals with themes of life, death, honour, family, suicide and love — to name a few. He’s able to deal with questions that are still relevant today, and yet, simultaneously create some of the most beautiful sounding, and at times, hard to interpret, verses ever written.
“To be or not to be…” begins Hamlet’s long-winded soliloquy on taking his life. Keeping up with the language is difficult, if you follow the ebb and flow of the iambs, the full impact of his question spills through.
These fundamental questions that Shakespeare writes about won’t suddenly become clear if they’re written by someone born in a more recent era. Time is needed to see to the beauty behind the musicality of his verses, to see that there is no word chosen accidentally.
While our world is a different place from Elizabethan England, the fact that Shakespeare’s characters wondered about the same things we do in Canada today should give anyone pause. His plays are powerful in that they demonstrate the immutability of many aspects of life — even the ones we wish we could change.
Studying his work will allow students to question these important and apparently unchanged themes of life. The age is, in a way, a strength of his timeless work.
High school students are able to study and — hopefully — appreciate Shakespeare, if given a chance.
No class at that level really delves beyond the surface of whatever subject is being studied, however, in Shakespeare we’re presented with the whole iceberg to explore in every line and word.
To shuffle Shakespeare aside for the sake of discovering new English writers, is like chemistry putting aside carbon because they never really gave francium a chance to shine. Sure, francium is important in its own right, but carbon is carbon — essential to the world.
Plain and simple, there is no other writer like him. The man not only changed the theatre, he changed the English language and by extension everything that happens in it.
Besides, The Lion King wouldn’t exist, nor the word “bedazzled”, without Shakespeare. He has a continuing profound influence on life and language today, valuable because in his works we’re shown the problems to life and how to deal with them. Or, at least, how not to.
Gabi Sandler, Staff Writer
Shakespeare is the most successful writer in the English language. However, success is in the eye of the beholder, and we may have given Shakespeare a little more credit than he’s worth.
The generally accepted thought that Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English-speaking world isn’t without reason. Together, his syntax and diction are stirring, but it’s his themes that are timeless. Some would say there is no one better than good ol’ Billy Shakes. Yes, Shakespeare’s themes are timeless, but he was not the first to use them and was definitely not the last.
The poet drew on the themes and plotlines of playwrights that came before him, using earlier English writers, folklore and Ancient Greek plays, borrowing from Chaucer and Ovid. The belief that his work is original
and creative in its subject matter is therefore
a misconception. Also, just as he did, many writers that
came after Shakespeare continued to explore these motifs that have been discussed for thousands of years.
The notion of star-crossed lovers: Try reading Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Loss of innocence: Just pick up Lord of the Flies. Death, honour and revenge: Hello, Harry Potter, anyone?
The point here is that many writers and creators have made equally beautiful and impressive tales with similar plots and themes in the last four centuries. So, if he wasn’t the first and he wasn’t the last, then it’s definitely possible that we’ve given England’s most talented wordsmith a title that he doesn’t deserve.
In a modern learning environment, we students know that unless something seems relevant and up-to-date, we don’t really pay attention to it. That’s why more and more classes are offered with online components and class time is including more interactive technology.
The same goes for class content. While you technically can’t “translate” Shakespeare, the language is out of date and very incomprehensible. Not only does his phrasing not make sense to our ears, but the multiple possible meanings make the dialogue between the script and the audience a difficult one.
Shakespeare is the Nokia phone of the English-speaking, smartphone-using world. A great first go at it, but it’s time to keep up with the times.I’m not saying we should never Shakespeare again; but it’s time to take Shakespeare off this pedestal that we’ve placed him on for so long.
Think of Shakespeare as just another part of history. As times go on, there’s more history to tell. We give up on certain stories and values to make room for the new ones.
For example, almost everyone knows of Sigmund Freud and his suggestions about the unconscious. Any Psychology student knows that Freud and his findings were a major catalyst in the field, but he had his downfalls and many researchers in the post-Freud era have made discoveries that debunked Freud’s theories.
That said, he’s still an icon in the field and an important part of the learning process. By simply touching briefly on his strengths and weaknesses, the pathway to modern psychological theory becomes a little clearer.
The same should be done with Shakespeare: Use him as a reference, but recognize that he is just one figure in a much larger picture.
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