Disclaimer: If you’re already a fan – or at least a reader – of Shakespeare’s work, I am not speaking to you at this time. This is for all of you who read, watch television and consume pop culture on a more than regular basis.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, I’ve worked in a bookshop, and a vital part of my identity involves a couch, a book, and no contact with the real world for hours or even days on end. While I chose to get a degree in English Literature mostly because I needed to do something (as opposed to nothing) when I finished high school, I did enjoy those 3 years of in-depth analysis of great literary masterpieces.
One of my classes was on Shakespeare, and as a lifelong fan (my mum bought comic book-versions of the plays so we would read them when we were kids) I thoroughly enjoyed the class. If you haven’t read any of his work, Shakespeare might seem intimidating or dull, but I’m here to give you 3 reasons why you should give Shakespeare a try.
1. It’s simple and funny – Literary classics are usually classics for a reason. Books don’t stay popular for centuries because they’re hard to read and even harder to understand, they thrive because they are timeless and accessible. Shakespeare’s comedies, if you give them the chance, will make you laugh out loud, and his tragedies have dark humor that bites. My personal favorite Anthony and Cleopatra is a commentary on lust, ambivalence, power and our fear of both ageing and dying. In other words, a story that is as relevant today as it was in 1607.
2. It’s recognizable – And for good reason. Shakespeare’s plays have been the basis and inspiration of countless television series and movies, from pure adaptations like Kenneth Branagh’s amazing movie-version of Hamlet to The Lion King (also Hamlet), West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet), and 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew). His plots and characters are also referenced in hundreds (if not thousands) of movies, from Gilmore Girls to How I Met Your Mother. Reading the originals will open up a new world of inside jokes you never knew you missed.
3. It’s influenced our culture – “I’ll not budge an inch”, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t”, “Love is blind”,”We have seen better days”, “A dish fit for the gods”, “Lie low”, “Dead as a doornail” and “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve” are all idioms that we use in the English language. “Off with his head!” and “The game is up” are better known as catch-phrases from movies, but they originated in King Richard and Cymbeline respectively. Reading Shakespeare you’ll come to realize that he has influenced so many different aspects of our culture, that it’s like being invited to take part in a great secret society. Like when you realize The Fault in Our Stars is a quote from Julius Caesar, or that “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, the song from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is from Macbeth.
I take my Shakespeare with a glass of wine. How do you take it?