Some people, especially individuals who have been assigned the works of Shakespeare as school assignments, have wondered about whether or not Shakespeare is still relevant. The relevance of Shakespeare and many other writers and artists who worked in previous eras is also a popular topic among educators and researchers who focus on literature. Many people argue that the enduring popularity of Shakespeare is a testimony to his relevance, and that additionally, he has made major contributions not only to the English language, but to the way in which people think and behave. Shakespeare has quite literally shaped society in many ways, making Shakespeare relevant in a very real way.
From a purely linguistic standpoint, Shakespeare is most definitely relevant. Shakespeare introduced thousands of words and phrases to the English language, along with new concepts and grammatical structures. While Shakespeare's language sometimes seems antiquated to modern eyes, it was quite daring and forward thinking for the time, and Shakespeare literally coined words to describe previously unimaginable situations and events, thereby enriching the English language immensely. People who wonder what makes Shakespeare relevant might want to consider that many common phrases, from “primrose path” to “all's well that ends well,” come from Shakespeare's works.
His explorations of poetic form and grammar also expanded the scope of English, laying the groundwork for other authors who worked after him. Shakespeare's work also transcended traditional boundaries. His tragedies, for example, include a great deal of comic relief, in a marked departure from the traditional presentation of tragedies. Likewise, his comedies included deeply tragic and very human moments. While the mixture of genres is widely acceptable and sometimes even expected today, it wasn't in the days of Shakespeare, and it was a radical shift in the way that plays were presented.
The characterization in Shakespeare also stands out, making Shakespeare relevant on a personal level to many people. His plays continue to be performed not because Shakespeare is famous, but because his characters feel very vivid and alive to viewers. While they may be kings, queens, and princes, they struggle with the same issues that many playgoers do, and they have very multidimensional human characterizations on the stage which people can associate with. The stories of Shakespeare are timeless, as proved by the fact that many of the themes which he deals with come up again and again in modern literature, film, and theater.
Shakespeare had a number of contemporaries, some of whom were quite talented, but it is his work which has endured to be performed and celebrated for centuries. For English speakers and residents of English-speaking nations, what makes Shakespeare relevant is the fact that the world would be very different without him. Shakespeare's plays and sonnets have contributed in a major way to modern society, from behaviors which have been shaped by the object lessons found in Shakespeare to the words and sentence structures used in this very article.