Is Shakespeare Still Relevant?1

Shakespeare’s language is old fashioned but understandable, his characters are intricate and a large number of his fundamental themes – love, treachery, honour, bravery, and political interest – are still vibrant and relevant in today’s modern world.5 4 3 2

Within Shakespeare’s plays and poems, there are a set of character types, stock characters that recur throughout his plays. Some examples of these stereotypical characters are; the scorned lover who seeks revenge, the besotted lover such as Romeo and Juliet, the jester who is the comedian, the wise person and the compassionate character. These stock characters remain relevant today as they have specific characteristics and personalities, which enable the audience to identify with them, meaning, they don’t have to think too hard in order to comprehend and understand the story lines. Some of Shakespeare’s characters are based on historical figures such as Queen Elizabeth. The historical figures in Shakespeare’s plays make the story lines educational and comprehendible by people today.

Shakespeare’s plays were written for a diverse audience and include complex themes exploring the theories of humanity and the frailty of the human condition. Common themes in Shakespeare plays are appearance and reality. How things appear on the outside, are not necessarily the truth. Many characters pretended to be someone they were not. Another of Shakespeare’s themes is a chain of events going from order to disorder and ultimately change. This chain of events could happen to a person, society or nature.


In 1994, Walt Disney Pictures released an all time favourite children’s film – The Lion
. The plot is terribly serious including concepts of responsibility and revenge. The tale of The Lion King uses parallels to Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

In The Lion King, the young prince’s father is murdered by his wicked uncle. The uncle then takes over the Pride Land and the prince is tricked and sent away. He grows up and returns to fight his uncle because he has found out the real truth. Hamlet is a play about the Prince of Denmark (Hamlet), whose father is murdered by his uncle, then marries his mother, and reins the kingdom. Hamlet is excluded and returns to fight his uncle.

Subtle similarities illustrated in The Lion King, can be noted and the two tales are very comparable. Although the stories were written centuries apart, the themes of responsibility and truth are still relevant today. So yes, Shakespeare’s work reigns supreme.

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10 Things I Hate About You is a popular classic teen cult movie, that is still viewed upon 20 years after its release. The film is based on Shakespeare’s romantic comedy The Taming of The Shrew, one of many of Shakespeare’s plays that have been adapted for modern day audiences. The film and play contain parallels between character, storyline and themes of individuality, plus young love and trust. The film includes many elements of teen life making it relatable and relevant. Several obvious links are the name Kat & Bianca and their surname Stratford is a link to Shakespeare’s birth place. One character and his date wear old Elizabethan attire and she addresses him as William. My favourite fact is that the director even extends the links to Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew by not only the girls’ surname but the male protagonist Patrick whose surname is Verona. This is the setting of another of Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet. The ideas and themes of Shakespeare’s work are continually adapted to parallel the similar and relevant ideas in our 21st century, just in case we can’t think of any of our of own.

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Perhaps the most well know of Shakespeare’s tragedies and the most ‘borrowed’ in terms of tragedies and thematic concerns of conflict and forbidden love is Romeo and Juliet. Parallels have been noted in the famous musical West Side Story, the animation Gnomio and Juliet, even our most recent Twilight in the the forbidden relationship between Bella and Edward.

“Once again, this demonstrates that Shakespeare’s timeless version of human nature is accurate in our days too.”

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Shakespeare’s plays, have also influenced many novels. The famous ‘Moby Dick’ by Herman Merville is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and elements from King Lear. This novel was written in 1857, and sold 1500 copies its first week. Many authors use elements of Shakespeare’s plays to enable them to create a plot with conflicts and thematic but relevant to today’s audiences.

Yes, we know students detest Shakespearian language and prefer to read the translated versions of his works but many high schools and university curriculums have substantial quantities of Shakespearian literature. Although teenagers complain about the language difficulties, many words in the English vocabulary have been adopted from the Elizabethan era. Some of these words include: addiction, assassination, bedazzled, swagger and uncomfortable. Without Shakespeare, the English language would not exist as it does today. Shakespeare’s word inventions are still used in today’s English vocabulary.

Blackadder vs. Shakespeare

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” It is no coincidence that Shakespeare is the most quoted playwright and poet in the Oxford Dictionary and some of his phrases are so well known that many of us have forgotten who first said it. Shakespeare has some of literatures most celebrated lines and expressions that are used daily. “There is something rotten in Denmark.” This reference is used often by politicians and often in murder mysteries to illustrate that something is being hidden or covered up. “Where for art thou,” is a quote from Romeo and Juliet yet it is used, primarily humorously in modern films and television shows “To be or not to be,” from Hamlet is used by people again in humourous prose or comedies.

“To be or not to be , um..what was the question?”

450 years on, Shakespeare still speaks to us wherever we are and in whatever era we find ourselves in. “The world is indeed a stage and we are mere players.”

Comic Relief – Catherine Tate & David Tennant