Why Do We Still Study Shakespeare?


It’s a question that many pupils and parents alike have asked over the years… Why do we still study Shakespeare?

On the face of it, you can see why: the language is unfamiliar and difficult to understand; and – anyway – How can Shakespeare still be relevant over 400 years since the Bard’s death?

The thing is… Shakespeare’s works are timeless. 

And here’s why…

Extraordinary storylines and themes

Think about some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, such as Romeo and Juliet. A classic and tragic love story; or Macbeth – a good man consumed by ambition, ultimately leading to his downfall, and a story of good conquering evil. 

Shakespeare’s plays have formed a template for countless books, movies and television dramas that have been produced over the years.

Shakespeare’s works have strong themes that run through each play. Again, these themes are still relevant today – love, death, ambition, power, fate, just to name a few.

So, Shakespeare’s plays are timeless and universal. This also makes them completely relatable to a contemporary audience. Ultimately, these are stories about life and human nature. This is why adaptations, such as Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, and set in a futuristic Los Angeles but using the original Shakespearean language, have been so successful.

Another example is Macbeth on the Estate, set on a modern council estate in Ladywood, Birmingham with Macbeth and Duncan cast as drug dealers. 

Shakespeare’s themes and ideas are not confined to the 16th century. They are every bit as relevant in 2023, and beyond.

Powerful characters

We all love stories. Not everyone likes reading but everybody loves a story. Fact.

Whether it’s cartoons, books, films, Netflix dramas, or reality TV shows, it’s what happens to people – the characters – that really holds our interest.

Shakespeare’s characters are some of the most powerful to be created in the history of storytelling.

The characters that Shakespeare created are so full of depth. Shakespeare had an incredible way of exploring his characters and portraying their emotions.

Shakespeare created heroes and villains; complex and flawed characters; and individuals we love and those we love to hate.

From murderers and traitors to lovers and dreamers, Shakespeare’s characters are full of everything imaginable and more. And there really is something for everyone.

Stack of William Shakespeare Books that GCSE students use. Asking the question 'Why do we still study Shakespeare?'

Why do we still study Shakespeare? Stunning quotes and wordplay

Shakespeare’s influence on the language we speak is undeniable. Think of all the sayings that have become part of everyday life: ‘cruel to be kind’, ‘hoodwinked’, ‘in a pickle’ – they all come from the Bard. In fact, it’s likely that we cite Shakespeare virtually every day without even realising it.

Then look at some of the most famous quotes from Shakespeare’s characters.

Is there a better way to sum up life than: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”?

And is there a more effective way of showing how, ultimately, we are all the same – regardless of our colour, creed, or religion than these lines from The Merchant of Venice? “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

And, just how insightful is this from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”

Shakespeare was wise, worldly, and wonderful.

And that’s why we still study Shakespeare!
If you are struggling with the Shakespeare component of GCSE English Literature – or any other part of the course – a private tutor could be the perfect solution! Get in touch to find out more.

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