Most people have probably heard the name Shakespeare, and many are left wondering whether it is worth trying to find the time to read his plays and poems. Is it worth putting aside all the time required to understand Shakespeare and read his texts today? Well, for starters there are lots of bum jokes (a character is actually called ‘Bottom’) and there are actually even ruder moments than that!
It’s definitely worth reading Shakespeare! Shakespeare was a playwright and poet who was writing roughly four hundred years ago in England. Let’s find out who he was, what he wrote, whether the writing was any good, whether his writing is relevant, and whether it’s fun to read!
Who is Shakespeare?
William Shakespeare was a playwright and poet who lived in England roughly four hundred years ago.
Actually, we don’t know as much about Shakespeare as you’d expect for a man who is regarded by some as the greatest writer of all time.
There is a lot of speculation about who really wrote the plays and poems, as we actually know very little about Shakespeare’s private life.
This has lead to lots of juicy theories about secret identities. One even suggesting that Queen Elizabeth wrote the plays!
Here are the biographical details we do know: Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. He married Anne Hathaway at 18, and had three children named Susanna, Hamnet and Judith. Around 1590 he began a theatrical career in London as an actor, and writer with a group called ‘The Lord Chamberlain’s Men.’ Around the age of 49 he retired to Stratford, and he died 3 years later.
What Did Shakespeare Write?
So this brings us to his actual writing!
He turned out a mountain of work for one individual (that’s why some people speculate it all might have been written by a few people).
But when you’re familiar with the works, they do feel like they are written by one individual.
Shakey wrote about 39 plays (some are in dispute!), 154 sonnets, three long narrative poems, and there are a few other bits and pieces that are attributed to him.
The plays are written in many different styles! Most what is known as Elizabethan verse. They are very poetic in nature, sometimes rhyming.
He wrote comedies, tragedies, histories, and pastoral plays. And other forms too!
Is Shakespeare’s Writing Good?
Yes! Very good.
The poems on love are moving and very quotable. ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
The comedy plays are still very funny today. Even if the audience doesn’t understand every word, we get what’s going on and the situations are hysterical!
The tragedies are still extremely tragic. His sad plays are full of life lessons, and so heart breaking. Think of Romeo and Juliet dying in each other’s arms! Tear. Gasp.
Is Shakespeare’s Writing Relevant Today?
In some ways society has moved on in the last 400 years. Women’s rights, and importance of diversity in the arts scene have come to the fore.
Shakespeare wasn’t totally blind to these concerns 400 years ago.
However, two things makes Shakespeare’s writing perennially relevant.
The themes he wrote about are timeless. Love, death, jealousy, ambition, hatred, revenge. These are core to the human experience, and no matter what changes in our cosmology we will return to these themes.
The second reason is the beauty of the language. He had a huge vocabulary, and even that wasn’t enough – he made up a vast number of words! Like ‘Bubble’! He’s regarded as pushing language to its very limits, at times breaking down into just writing sounds like ‘ooooooo’ to express pain when the lexicon of agony has been exhausted.
Is it Fun to Read Shakespeare?
Yes, totally. It’s really fun.
Things that can make it more fun are reading the plays out loud with friends.
Make sure you have access to a good guide to the language he uses. Some books come with a modern translation of the old style language.
Is it Worth Reading Shakespeare?
So, after all that, is it worth reading Shakespeare today? Well … yes! Totally worth it.
He is regarded by many as the best writer in the English language.
His influence is everywhere! If you know his plays and poems you will pick up on references to his work all around you.
His comedies are hilarious and his tragedies are really moving.
You can learn about world history by reading his plays (although they’re not always totally accurate).
You can learn about the human condition: about the highs and lows we all go through.
You can bond with other people by reading his works with them: or starting a Shakespearean reading club.
Finally, you can enjoy the clever and moving use of poetry and language – which generates in readers the strongest and most satisfying emotions.
So there you have it! Shakespeare is fun to read, his writing is of very high quality and relevant to modern readers.
If nothing else, it’s worth knowing more about a writer who many regard as the greatest, even if it’s just to decide that he’s not for you! It’s OK to hate the greats.
There are lots of rude jokes to keep you hooked to the comedies. And tonnes of moving moments in the tragedies.
If you are a poet, playwright, or lover of literature, this body of work is just waiting for you to dive in! Thanks Shakey!