As an English major with a concentration in Shakespeare and his contemporaries, I’ve been asked a few times why I choose Shakespeare. I’ve been asked why others should study Shakespeare, even if they’re not English majors. I’ve never really given the answer much thought. I’ve always jokingly replied, “Why not Shakespeare?” and that was the end of the conversation. But I think it’s a question worth examining a little. A question worth a better answer.
- He made a heavy contribution to the English language. By changing the grammatical function of words and creating words that were entirely new at the time, Shakespeare invented around 1,700 of our most common words! Words like courtship, exposure, hurry, and eventful only exist because William Shakespeare wrote them to life. If that wasn’t enough, he also put words together to create phrases that had never been used before. Dead as a doornail, in a pickle, break the ice, and faint hearted are all phrases Shakespeare penned, and we use them quite often.
- The themes and ideas in Shakespeare’s works are timeless. His stories, and the characters in those stories, reveal human nature and universal truths that readers during any time period can relate to. Themes of greed and ambition, a desire for revenge, corrupt politics, heartbreak, and the pursuit of love are weaved into the plots of his plays, and his representations of human nature are as relevant today as they were when Shakespeare wrote them.
- The simple, pure brilliance of his work. Shakespeare continuously penned poetry and prose in an eloquent language that many find intimidating and overwhelming. Because of this, they turn away from his plays and his poems. What they don’t realize is that unlocking Shakespeare’s language opens doors to other works. Having the ability to read, understand, and analyze his prose allows readers to then be able to read, understand, and analyze other works.
- Serious entertainment value. The content of Shakespeare’s plays provides readers an enjoyable literary experience. He knew how to form a good story, a good plot, and he knew how to mold relatable and realistic characters. His words cover a wide range of topics meaning there is a play to appeal to all kinds of readers.
I started reading Shakespeare when I was a freshman in high school, and I’ve been hooking on his prose ever since. I know it can be intimidating at first, but once you get through the first few pages of a play or the first few lines of a poem, it’s simple. I encourage you all to give the Bard another try.