Why Do We Still Love Shakespeare?
When reviewing adaptations of his plays, and looking at the history that shaped this man, it is sometimes hard to remember that these plays have lasted (intact) for nearly 500 years. What is it about Shakespeare that makes him so relatable, even with the language barrier between modern English and the English of Shakespeare’s day? This man’s influence in literature is something that most authors today still cannot imagine attaining for themselves. Shakespeare’s father was a glove maker, and as such, young Will would have been expected to follow in that career. However, it is apparent that little Billy’s heart lay with writing, not so much glovemaking.
Perhaps this is one reason he could write of teenage rebellion and angst so well, having rebelled against his own father and society’s expectations at a young age. This is one reason that he still manages to connect with highschool students of today, revealing that while rebellion is nothing new, it is, at times, for the best.
Shakespeare also wrote of things that were on the minds of his contemporary audience.Justice, crime, and love were just as much on the mind of the renaissance theater patron as they are on the modern-day movie viewer. Thus, the themes themselves are timeless, which draws many people to the plays as though they were written just last month.
Shakespeare does have some obscure language in his plays, but another thing that has stayed on the mind of people throughout the centuries is fairly predictable: sex.
Yes, Shakespeare’s plays, especially when you see them performed, are absolutely rife with sex jokes. One of my college professors during my undergrad told me that “if it sounds like a sex joke in Shakespeare, it probably is.”
In some ways, Shakespeare’s plays are more ‘inappropriate’ than modern-day television.
But Shakespeare does not only rely on sex jokes. His comedy can also be very high-brow, surprisingly modern, and even situational. One of the best examples of a Renaissance sitcom would easily be A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And Titus Andronicus features what may be the very first “Yo’ Mamma” joke.
Shakespeare’s themes and humor were not the only things that gave him staying power, though.
A large part of his fame at the time, and likely one of the reasons that we still have most of his plays is, to put it in today’s terms, “not what he knew, but who he knew.”
When Shakespeare began his career, he caught the attention of Lord Burghley (a.k.a. William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I’s advisor). Cecil supported William, even giving his title to the theater troupe who became known as “the Lord Chamberlain’s men.” After James I ascended the throne, Shakespeare’s company became “the King’s Men,” who were under the patronage of the king himself.
This fame in his own time, coupled with Shakespeare’s adeptness at addressing complex and timeless topics and his varied sense of humor, has managed to keep him at the top of the booklists, and has made him one of the most relatable historical figures of the past centuries.