The Enduring Power of William Shakespeare

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When the name William Shakespeare is mentioned amongst a group, there are two thoughts that can emerge: A) flashback of breaking a sweat in English class when reading a character's part out-loud and being unable to make it sound right; or B) heart soaring to the highest as you remember how much fun it was to read Romeo and Juliet back in school! Shakespeare can be a challenging read and many a youth has wondered out loud why we are still reading the works of this dead guy.

Even I, who consider myself a fan of Shakespeare, hit a frustrating time when I read "A Winter's Tale." It had been years since I read any Shakespeare, so I blame myself for the spat with the gifted playwright. Sentiments of frustration, often, have more to do with the language and expressions used during the Elizabethan era than with the author himself. In my arrogant love of the Shakespearian plays I knew, I was humbled by one I had not read before, and forced to work at deciphering the language. But the effort is always worth it because Shakespeare was a great storyteller who knew how to tell tales full of human nature in every thread he weaved.

Shakespeare has a great number of characters with stories that draw us to them, and in that way compel us to get into the play. Try connecting to one of them and follow where it will lead. If you want a romantic tragedy, follow Romeo who is in love with love in his youthful naïveté, or hopeful Juliet who falls desperately in love with Romeo but doomed to marry Paris. In the mood for political intrigue, then follow jealous Othello blinded to the true betrayal in his kingdom, or clever Lago manipulating circumstances to bring down the hated Moor. If the words you long to hear are; "To be or not to be" then follow Hamlet in his quest to avenge his father and meet beautiful Ophelia of the broken dreams. There's also sweetly playful A Midsummer's Night Dream with comical Puck who sees "what fools these mortals be" while following divine orders to deal with aptly described fools of love Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia, and Helena. There are 37 Shakespearian plays to choose from, and what makes them so fun is that they're not meant for solo quiet reading. 

If something more solitary is what you have in mind, Shakespeare also wrote narrative poems, and unique sonnets. Just as with his plays, read these works out loud to follow and grasp the emotions behind the words. The emotions range widely and it’s plain to see that Shakespeare (having the background of every-so-often actor) could write with great feeling in every page. His narrative poem Venus and Adonis is full of lustful passion but alas, ends in tragedy while the darker story of The Rape of Lucrece addresses revenge when family honor is suffered. As for sonnets, Shakespeare wrote 154 of them, and readers are bound to stumble upon the familiar number Sixteen "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" or truthful number One-Hundred thirty "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips' red."

So, in answer to the youth wondering why we continue to read Shakespeare, it is because the wide variety of Shakespeare's writing is universally understood. Furthermore, his words survived the passing of time to influence other artist, and he continues to be an icon of the Elizabethan age. Shakespeare's work can be challenging but giving it respect, in the form of time, provides the reward of works that have stood every passing trend. ~