We asked you why you think William Shakespeare is still relevant, even 400 years after his death, and we are excited to share the winners below! Runners-up will receive 50 eNotes credits (to use on academic Q&A, essay review, and live tutoring) and the grand prize winner will receive $400 cash, a 1-year eNotes subscription, and 100 eNotes credits. We were so excited to hear of the many ways the Bard still inspires you, and even came to some fresh appreciations based on all the various answers—and answerers that—submitted.
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1. From user user3184928:
It was plain old curiosity that drew me to William Shakespeare’s works. Whenever someone quoted or talked about him, I used to think, “What the heck are they talking about?” At the time I was unaware of the true extent of the playwright’s talent.
Shakespeare is still relevant today because he has succeeded as a truly remarkable and prolific writer and playwright. He has managed to ensnare the engagement of every generation by imbuing highly entertaining values of comedy, drama and tragedy in the lives of complex characters. Thus, when combined with a never-before-used style of writing, a star was born.
Shakespeare’s plays portray stories which are filled to the brim with feelings, emotions, questions and opinions. Surely, these have the power to touch every soul that has read or seen his work, just as they have mine. For example, there is a sinking sensation which strikes me because sometimes what I want to do or what I want to be is something which my family will find difficult, if not impossible to accept. This just like the hopelessness that Romeo and Juliet feel when they learn of each others’ identities and know that their families are enemies.
In addition, in Romeo and Juliet, a number of characters who die place their blame upon fate and other characters. It is, after all, easier to do that rather than sit down and contemplate where the true blame lies (almost always on themselves). This sits true with me because I used to blame other people and other things for whatever went wrong. I am happy to say that I am working on it.
Through his plays, I have learnt not to let emotions get the best of me and to keep a cool head, unlike Macbeth, whose greed leads him to violence and destruction. Also, I believe it is better to invest time and energy in realistic thoughts and ideas instead of in self-fulfilling prophecies.
Shakespeare portrays so many different kinds of men: it is truly a wonder Shakespeare was able to keep track of them. If the multitude and versatility of his works are not astounding then I don’t know what is. He does not even leave supernatural elements out in the rain.
The use of universal themes and abstract ideas and concepts always brings the promise of discovering something new, like a connection newly made between characters and/or events even if it is the fourth or fifth read. I could spend so much time just thinking about every belief, thought or opinion that is challenged or provoked, and to quote and explain everything would take a lot of time.
“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
2. From user rubydunn2001:
William Shakespeare is still relevant today as a historical figure, as he shows how anybody, whatever humble beginnings they start out from, can achieve greatness and influence the lives of others in the years, decades, and even centuries to come.
William Shakespeare’s works are still relevant today because, aside from the sometimes difficult language, they are full of human foibles, fripperies, funny ways, and fancy aspirations. Not only do Shakespeare’s works continue to entertain audiences today with their rollicking tales, quick action, dramatic fights, and slapstick euphemisms, but for each play there is a moral, some clearer than others. In Othello, we find that jealousy and insecurity can lead even the most noble to terrible acts, in Romeo and Juliet we see that passion may not always be the best game, in The Taming Of The Shrew we are taught that every successful marriage consists of compromise and equality. Below the surface of each play’s antics and clear points, there are a myriad of different interpretations—is Hamlet a story arguing for action or inaction? Does The Taming Of The Shrew speak for submission in marriage, rather than equality? Is Othello a racist play, or not? And below each of these many interpretations there is always the personal tale that every person gains from the plays of Shakespeare—the line that strikes someone, the speech that they write and stick by their desk to encourage them, the moment that makes them realise who they really care about, or what they want to do. Even Shakespeare’s language, his Elizabethan tongue, contributes to the audience’s enjoyment, and it is every director’s pleasure to decide which lines are spoken amidst the conversations onstage, and which to the audience, or which as soliloquies. It is in these lines and speeches that each actor, each reader, each listener or audience member, can impress upon the tale their own view, in a way that more modern literature, film and television does not allow, so that each person who encounters a line in Shakespeare will find a different meaning. Though the language can be hard to comprehend, and though I do not advocate shoving it down people’s throats when they do not understand it, and though I do not believe that modern translations of Shakespeare are not “really Shakespeare,” I do believe that the language he uses, however incidental or deliberate, is so written that any view can be impressed upon it, and so provide a never-ending stream of different stories to be told.
I believe that Shakespeare is still relevant today because his work shows a progression of different views, all which can be manipulated to show further or deeper views; his words can be so personal to each reader, and because he was just a lower-middle-class kid from Stratford-Upon-Avon.
3. From user ekmosca3:
Shakespeare amazingly still demands a viable presence in our lives 400 years later. As I teach Romeo and Juliet in my classroom today, I constantly find myself asking my students how they can relate. They are astonished when they find themselves talking about how the themes play into their lives.
Being an adolescent is awkward in many ways. One of those ways is the battle between being true to yourself and your family values. Romeo battles his family by loving a Capulet, Juliet by loving a Montague, but they defy the risk and love each other anyway. The stress in doing this is mirrored and often shared by classmates.
Loving each other so much that they want to kill themselves and ultimately are successful in doing so? Sadly I hear this mimicked in students’ love cries today. That desperation and heartache is validated by this story. A vigorous and vivid display of love is seen from beginning to end, even through platonic relationships, as with Mercutio and Romeo. Many types of love—healthy, unhealthy, happy, lustful, and intense—are all explored as my students explore them themselves.
Masculinity vs. Femininity
Juliet defies the damsel role by giving Romeo attitude, and blatantly ignoring his wishes. Romeo is a peacemaker who is naive and whiny. They both embody and challenge gender roles, something students often struggle with.
The list goes on and on, but awe is inspired through the sheer fact that a 400-year-old dead white man could write literature that resounds through the ages, and with the hope that we may do so ourselves.
4. From user jadescotford:
Not only are the plays of Shakespeare still relevant today, I believe that they will always be relevant because Shakespeare’s themes, ideas, and characters are universal. The beauty of Shakespeare’s work is that it revolves around concepts that are at the core of existing as a human being. The language of Renaissance England can act as a barrier to modern students who may find Shakespeare’s plays inaccessible, but with proper teaching this can be overcome. Once one has an understanding of Shakespeare’s language it can be surprising to many how relatable his work can be. Othello is a prime example of the pain and rage people can feel when they believe someone they love has cheated on them (though most people do not go to the extreme of murdering their unfaithful spouse). Macbeth tells the story of overreaching ambition and its terrifying consequences, King Lear deals with the encroaching specter of age and the fear that our children will not remain loyal to us once we grow old, Romeo and Juliet is about the blossoming of love, and Hamlet explores how we experience family tragedy and the debilitating effects of grief and depression on the psyche. I could go on, but the point is, broken down to its essential elements, every Shakespeare play explores an element of human nature that is relatable and enlightening to his readers. Such themes were relevant in the Renaissance, they are relevant today, and they will always be relevant because they are at the core of what makes us human beings.
5. From user user8528858:
I use two film versions of Romeo and Juliet, the 1968 Zefferelli version that takes a very classic Shakespearean approach, and the 1994 Baz Luhrmann version that presents the story in a contemporary urban setting with the Montague and Capulets as warring street gangs. The latter uses rap and rock and roll for it soundtrack. Students generally react poorly to the Zefferelli production, which I show first, and very positively to the Luhrmann version. My observation is that Shakespeare remains relevant to today’s students because his universal themes are as formidable today as they were when he wrote his plays. Seeing students react so positively to the near-contemporary Luhrmann film, which uses fast-paced film editing, highly saturated colors, and the aforementioned music to break through the barrier of Shakespeare’s classic language, which is used by Luhrmann, I can see that students can relate to the story and the themes that resonate because the pressures many of them face are a big part of the Romeo and Juliet narrative.
Grand Prize Winner!
We are excited to announce D. Gittinger as our grand prize winner! The passion and respect for the Bard is evident… especially as the entrant is not a literature/English teacher, but a math teacher, who still imbibes his life and classroom lessons with Shakespearean material. Gittinger wrote up and shared and extremely unique activity blending Shakespeare, math, and humor in one. To top it all off, he wrote a lovely sonnet for his wife—all of which can be found in his answer below.
From user dgitting:
Because Shakespeare is fun! He is clever and relevant even today because he addresses the human condition in all its glory and ignominy. He makes us think and helps us to understand.
Not only do I emulate him by writing sonnets for my wife—see an example at the end—but I have collected many of his “insults” and written a few of my own. I compiled them and asked my students and colleagues if they could identify which insults are “real” and which were made up by yours truly. It was a crowning achievement when my high school English teacher thought that one of MY insults was actually the Bard’s! When he read “Thou wast not born like mortal man, But rather hatched, like an evil plot,” he said that it was from Macbeth!
Since I teach math, not English, I decided to do something mathematical: in the table below, all the prime numbers up to 107 identify where I put my made-up insults. Hence, the fake insults are numbered 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107. After 107, I ran out of my own insults.
Here’s what I send out:
Put “T” if you think each insult below is a true Shakespearean insult and “F” if you think it’s a fake.
For a lot of extra credit, name the play from which each real insult was taken. For a little extra credit, find the first occurrence of iambic pentameter in this missive. For a modicum of extra credit, name the author of the fake insults. For no credit, use the Internet to get a lot of extra credit.
Hint: there are exactly 28 fakes. And, of course, 28 is a perfect number because 28 is the sum of its proper divisors: 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14 = 28.
Answers available upon request; just send me the 28 numbers corresponding to the insults that you think are fake.
Suggestions for improvement are welcome.
1. The complaints I have heard of you I do not all believe;
‘tis my slowness that I do not; for I know you lack not
folly to commit them and have ability enough to make
such knaveries yours.
2. Dost thou enjoin my gaze upon thy face,
And command me listen to thy witless speech?
Better to pluck mine eyes and stuff them in mine ears.
3. Surely thou canst walk upon the waters,
For even the sea would not embrace thee whole.
4. You should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.
5. Thy countenance doth make men praise the gods
For giving them swift legs to take their leave.
6. If thou be’st not an ass, I am a youth of fourteen.
7. The maggots in thy hair rejoice that they are blind and short-lived
8. Thou wert best set thy lower part where thy nose stands.
9. You are not worth another word, else I’d call you knave.
10. Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving of it.
11. Flowers die in thy shadow and wilt where thou hast trod.
12. To say nothing, to do nothing, to know nothing, and to
Have nothing, is to be a great part of your title, which is
Within a very little of nothing.
13. Thy lack of grace is match’d by lack of wit
14. Till I have no wife I have nothing.
15. He’s a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar,
An hourly promise-breaker, the owner of no one good quality.
16. Is it possible he should know what he is, and be that he is?
17. No flesh so vile hath e’er been sired by man:
Methinks thy dam were consort to the devil
18. He will lie, sir, such volubility that you would think truth were a fool.
19. That he is not thou is the devil’s redemption.
20. In his sleep he does little harm, save to his bedclothes about him.
21. He hath out-villain’d villainy so far that the rarity redeems him.
22. I saw the man today, if man he be.
23. Death is God’s gift to rid the earth of thee.
24. Pray you stand farther from me.
25. Thou art so leaky that we must leave thee to thy sinking.
26. The dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits.
27. It is a deadly sorrow to behold a foul knave uncuckolded.
28. What shall I call thee when thou art a man?
29. Thou wast not born like mortal man,
But rather hatched, like an evil plot.
30. His brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage.
31. At birth thy sorry wit took leave of thee
As excrement from a hanged knave.
32. Let’s meet as little as we can.
33. I do desire we may be better strangers.
34. ‘Tis a fault I will not change for your best virtue.
35. By my troth, I was seeking a fool when I found you.
36. [You are] falser than vows made in wine.
37. Thou hast naught to say,
And even that, say poorly
38. You lisp and wear strange suits.
39. Let her never nurse her child herself, for she will breed it like a fool.
40. There’s many a man hath more hair than wit.
41. You wager my esteem for you be slight?
You overshoot the mark: tis naught at all.
42. I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways. Therefore tremble and depart.
43. I kiss my direst enemy lest my spit die upon thy face.
44. Here comes a pair of very strange beasts, which in all tongues are called fools.
45. If thou art changed to aught, ‘tis to an ass.
46. She’s the kitchen wench, and all grease, and I know not
what use to put her but to make a lamp of her, and
run from her by her own light.
47. Better to pluck my heart from my breast
And bury it in a dunghill
Than suffer it to beat in thy foul presence
48. Thou are sensible in nothing but blows, and so is an ass.
49. Your abilities are too infant-like for doing much alone.
50. [You are] one that converses more with the buttock of the
night than with the forehead of the morning.
51. I find the ass in compound with the major part of your syllables.
52. More of your conversation would infect my brain.
53. Had I one word for thee, ‘twould be “begone.”
54. He’s a disease that must be cut away.
55. The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.
56. He is a thing too bad for bad report.
57. Her beauty and her brain go not together.
58. It is fit I should commit offence to my inferiors.
59. Thy life abuseth reason.
60. That such a crafty devil as his mother should yield the world this ass!
61. For thy trifling wit to grasp,
My speech must needs be slow, my words, short:
I love thee not, nor have, nor will.
62. Men’s vows are women’s traitors!
63. Thy words I grant are bigger; for I wear not my dagger in my mouth.
64. . . .not Hercules could have knock’d out his brains, for he had none.
65. One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
66. God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another.
67. A thousand births thy mother would endure
To rid her womb of devil’s scurvy seed.
68. ‘Tis a vice to know him.
69. O, if men were to be saved by merit, what hole in hell
Were hot enough for [you]?
70. There’s neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
71. Who would claim a child as thee?
Thou art th’ abandoned son of infamy and shame.
72. There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.
73. Thou art barely a man, with little substance and no wit.
Surely the briefest breeze doth topple thee.
74. I am whipp’d and scourg’d with rods,
Nettled, and stung with pismires, when I hear
Of this vile politician.
75. You tread upon my patience.
76. How now, wool-sack, what mutter you?
77. Thou are essentially a natural coward without instinct.
78. Do thou amend thy face, and I’ll amend my life.
79. Thou dost not bathe, yet thou art clean.
‘Tis no surprise.
Even dirt and stench flee thy foul company.
80. You are as a candle, the better part burnt out.
81. [You] fortify in paper and in figures,
Using the names of men instead of men.
What a disgrace is it to me to remember thy name!
82. Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?
83. Thy wit escap’d thy noddle,
Ere thy mother’s womb evict’d thee.
84. It was more of his courtesy than your deserving.
85. I, in my condition, shall speak better of you than you deserve.
86. I would you had but the wit.
87. Thy life did manifest thou lov’dst me not,
And thou wilt have me die assur’d of it.
88. Thou hid’st a thousand daggers in thy thoughts,
Which thou hast whetted on thy stony heart,
To stab at half an hour of my life.
89. A word’s a word too many to tell
The difference ’twixt thee and a beast.
90. [You are] a ruffian that will swear, drink, dance,
Revel the night, rob, murder, and commit
The oldest sins the newest kind of ways.
91. What wind blew you hither?
92. Reply not to me with a fool-born jest.
93. Your horse would trot as well were some of your brags dismounted.
94. His jest will savour but of shallow wit
When thousands weep more than did laugh at it.
95. [He] saw a flea stick upon your [nose], and said it was a
black soul burning in hell.
96. Three such antics do not amount to a man.
97. ‘Tis the sun’s shame to guide thy path.
98. He hath a killing tongue and a quiet sword; by the means
whereof he breaks words, and keeps whole weapons.
99. His few bad words are matched with as few good deeds.
100. He never broke any man’s head but his own, and that
was against a post when he was drunk.
101. I gladly trade the richest place on earth
And make abode on Luna’s darkest side
To be farthest from thy rotten face.
102. He is not the man that he would gladly make show to the world he is.
103. If thou art a man, I write not this sentence.
104. I should be angry with you if the time were convenient.
105. I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart: but the saying is true, “The empty vessel makes the greatest sound.”
106. [You] do offend our sight.
107. Thou offendest offence itself.
108. [Your] face is not worth sunburning.
109. Your face is as a book, where men
May read strange matters.
110. [Your] horrid image doth unfix my hair.
111. Be not lost so poorly in your thoughts.
112. Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!
113. [Your] sole name blisters our tongues.
114. Fit to govern? No, not to live.
115. I would not have such a heart in my bosom, for the dignity of the whole body.
116. Now does he feel his title
hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe
upon a dwarfish thief.
117. All that is within him does condemn itself for being there.
118. [This] is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
119. You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!
120. That trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey Iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years?
121. You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish—O for breath to utter what is like thee!—you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!
122. Peace, ye fat guts!
123. Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver’d boy.
124. Your virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese.
125. Marry, sir, she’s the kitchen wench and all grease;
and I know not what use to put her to but to make a
lamp of her and run from her by her own light. I
warrant, her rags and the tallow in them will burn a Poland winter: if she lives till doomsday,
she’ll burn a week longer than the whole world.
Here’s one of my sonnets:
“All Aboard” by D. Gittinger
Within our crystal ball we can’t quite see,
As wave-by-wave, our journey is revealed.
We set our sails without a guarantee,
And know not when, or how, our fate is sealed.
A ship lies safe when not too far from shore,
In waters still, where ill winds seldom go.
But ships are sound and pine for so much more,
for oceans deep, where swifter breezes blow.
Upon the seas, at last our craft sets sail.
And spirits us beyond familiar sands.
As one, we parry storms, the winds, and hail
To taste the magic air in distant lands.
At journey’s end, our grail lies not in wait,
But sails with us—the sailing is our fate.
Let us sail on together. All of us really are brothers and sisters.
Thank you to everyone who entered and best of luck on our next prize-winning opportunity!