A friend recently presented me with a copy of ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ which is a collection I’ve been meaning to buy for myself for the longest time now. I’m glad I procrastinated – as usual; but see how well things work out sometimes?
Anyway, seeing the book lying on my bedside table has had me thinking. What is it about the bard’s work that has had me mesmerized for so long now? Why is it that even untalented Bollywood actors whose careers are almost over, bounce back with awe-inspiring performances the minute they are given a script that is even loosely based on a Shakespearean classic? What is it about Shakespeare’s characters and plots that move us and make us feel, whatever it is that we feel?
Perhaps a good place to start is the incomparable range of characters Shakespeare so masterfully creates. Another aspect that compels me is the variety of interpretations that one can draw from his work. And of course there’s his lavish use of symbolism, allusions and imagery that add so much depth, richness and complexity to his works.
But where do 21st century learners fit in to all of this? Why should children today continue to labor over complex old English sentences and intricate webs of plots and sub plots? How can I confidently stand in a class full of brainy teenagers and teach from an old-English text while they’d much rather be reading about gadgets, gizmos and the wide array of modern-day marvels they have to choose from?
It is my belief that what is lacking in Shakespeare is the voice of a child. But maybe Shakespeare didn’t intend for his plays to be seen by children. Maybe they were meant for teenagers, young adults and the rest. So that’s where I start. I use that as my trigger and try to unravel and uncover issues and ideas that my teenage students can understand and relate to. Thankfully, the bards work is so broad-based and wide that finding contemporary comparisons and relevance in modern times is not difficult at all. That’s what makes him durable. That’s what made him tick and that’s what keeps his work relevant.
Even today, I still find Shakespeare’s works appeal so intruding. Not only did he have a frighteningly accurate understanding of the human psyche but he was also able to capture its essence and express it in words, and how! Even today he is able to engage a reader’s mind and heart at the same time, a feat not many writers are able to master.
But Shakespeare isn’t great because he wrote about universal issues. Most writers did the same. Shakespeare is great because he wrote after having delved into those issues more deeply, exploring more nuanced characters, scripting more eloquently and by writing more movingly than any other playwright at that time or after.
As I see it, the works of William Shakespeare were and are not a bore. They are as vital and fresh today as they were when they were first written. I remember cribbing each time my English teacher told us to turn to page so and so of The Merchant of Venice and perhaps, he taught it without the kind of emotional investment it deserved, but what great satisfaction I get when I think back and can relate to what I read way back then and find it relevant even today, so many years later.
If you are weary of the outdated TV shows your network has on right now or if you’re unwilling to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a day at the movies, but still want a new adventure, find that Shakespearean text you hated as a kid and read it with a more open mind.
As for all the boys in 9C who I know will read this, I know you grumble sometimes, don’t stop… that’s part of the fun…but don’t all those ‘aha!’ moments make up for all the hours of arguing and over-analyzing? So, try a little Shakespeare once in a while, I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
Shakespeare was not of an age, but for all time. – Ben Jonson