Is Shakespeare Relevant Today?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Although he wrote hundreds of years ago, Shakespeare remains an inspiration to many writers.
Although he wrote hundreds of years ago, Shakespeare remains an inspiration to many writers.

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.

Shakespeare's romantic story about Romeo and Juliet is still loved by readers today.
Shakespeare's romantic story about Romeo and Juliet is still loved by readers today.

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.

Shakespeare's plays continue to be relevant because they employed universal themes and emotions.
Shakespeare's plays continue to be relevant because they employed universal themes and emotions.

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.

Many high school students are assigned Shakespeare's "Hamlet".
Many high school students are assigned Shakespeare's "Hamlet".

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.

Shakespeare coined many words that are still in common use today.
Shakespeare coined many words that are still in common use today.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Shakespeare is awesome. I'm doing an annotated bibliography on how he influences society today. It's going pretty well but it's for my semester exam grade and I don't want to fail. I could really use some help.


Well I'm an English person here in India. Apart from an extract from one of Shakespeare's drama and a sonnet here and a sonnet there, students hardly get to read the master. There's nothing around them, except for a few who are genuinely interested in literature and who have parents who enjoy reading. There's nothing that inspires or compels or attracts them to Shakespeare. Sad, pathetic. But I tried narrating the plays to students in the form of stories. It was a little step.


As a person who is not really fond of reading plays, having to read Romeo and Juliet is actually boring. It bothers me to have to read such writing. I do hope one day that William Shakespeare will stay in plays and not in school, despite all the things he did to benefit today's society.


At first, I never understood Shakespeare, but today, I have grown fond of all his works. He was indeed a genius!


If Shakespeare's ideas and themes had not been used as the basis to make movies, books, and even TV shows for the past century, I'd say the people opposing his relevance might have shot at proving their point. But that's not the case.

Over and over again, his stories have been retold for this generation and the last. For students who don't understand his language: the real lessons to be learned from his plays are found in between the lines and the dialogues, in the characters' emotions and actions. There's nothing more human than that.


Of course, Shakespeare is relevant today. He is one of the greatest writers of all time. The problem is the way he wrote is impossible to understand for most people. The time that it takes for a high school class to read, translate, reread and understand what he was writing would be much better spent reading the works of more modern writers .

Hemingway, Twain, Poe, Hawthorne and Melville were great authors that high school students can read and understand, and all in the same amount of time it would take to read “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” The reality is 99 percent of people couldn't tell you the first thing about any of the Shakespeare they read in high school, not because they don't remember, but because they didn't understand it. If the end result is most still don't understand it after reading it, did they really learn anything by reading it or was it a waste of time?


Shakespeare is hardly relevant today, with all the indecipherable old English, perplexing iambic pentameter, and allusions only fully accessible to the people of the 1600s -400 years ago. Most of his works have lost their meaning.

And if we take King Lear for example, one of his most acclaimed texts, we can see that there aren't any functional monarchs left in the world (that coffin-dodger in Buckingham Palace doesn't count) and polytheistic beliefs are seen as laughable today, making it hard to determine Shakespeare's real message, let alone his relevance to today's busting modern world. Sure he left us with a few extra sayings, but is being able to cry out "all's well that ends well" really indicative of relevancy? --Bobbobo


Of course there would be a English Language without Shakespeare. Yes, yes, yes he wrote wonderful plays and yes some of the themes are relevant today. But I don't understand why we have to research him so thoroughly. I'm in high school and honestly, to me, Shakespeare is a terrific writer. and that is it!


I am assigned to do a biography on Shakespeare and this helped open my eyes a bit.


I can understand what anon86108 is saying, however how can something endure without it still be relevant? And does everyone really need to like something to make it relevant?

I don't like math, but I can see its relevance every day. I love history but that does not necessary help me with my food shopping does it? Have I learned plenty of things from Shakespeare? Yes, particularly how to be critical and read between the lines.

As an English teacher, I have covered a wide variety of his texts, some I love, some I hate- but I still find them relevant. Only a few months ago, my students found the connection between Romeo and Juliet and teen suicide. It brought up some interest social welfare issues that probably would not have been covered had it not been for Shakespeare.


I'm in high school and doing an assignment on why he is still relevant. Most people I know believe that Shakespeare's works are boring and old, but the themes presented in his works are timeless. If only people could see that rather than immediately dismissing his old english as indecipherable and not even attempting to see the beauty expressed in his words.


I'm in high school and we're having an exam on Shakespeare's relevance. I personally believe that he is still relevant. People don't see how relevant Shakespeare is now, and I believe that's only because there are books out about sparkling vampires (and other mumbo jumbo) and everyone who isn't obsessed with books/games and other things about fantasy beings, or things that are out of this world, would know that what Shakespeare wrote about is still happening now. He wrote about love, hate, ambition and so much more. People are still facing the difficulties of love, being pressured into things, etc. Some people are just blind to how Shakespeare has exposed all of this.


You people must be blind if you don't see Shakespeare is relevant to today! he wrote about many great themes, he captures the human condition perfectly and thoroughly. everyone can relate to his plays. you just have to understand it.


Shakespeare is relevant today! His plays explore many things that we experience to this day (such as jealousy, greed, revenge, etc.)

Sure, he's occasionally difficult to understand, but his plays are wonderful and revolutionary.


I'm a teenager and we got assigned to read Shakespeare and it's a pain. We're reading Romeo & Juliet and i just think that it's a stupid plot. Teenagers like reading books that are actually interesting not boring like this book. Yes, Shakespeare is a great author but most people i know think that he is not relevant in the 21st centuries.


Shakespeare is awesome!


Don't get me wrong, I like the Bard, but we should not forget that he only gained his importance due to a number of lucky coincidences. If you don't know what I mean, read Gary Taylor's book "Reinventing Shakespeare."

Back in the Elizabethan Age, he was "One among Many" and "No First Among Equals". People liked him, but they liked Marlowe, Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher as much or even more. Yes, he was important, but the fact that he survived until today is a coincidence, a product of the 18th and 19th century.

Would there be an English language without Shakespeare? Definitely! The English language is greater than just one author.

Is Shakespeare relevant today? Depends. Since a lot of people rate him highly, since he is part of the national curriculum in many countries, since we made him larger than life, he does have relevancy. On the other hand, think about how many of his 37 plays you know or have seen on stage or in film. There are a number of duds in his arsenal, aren't there?


I love Shakespeare! Of course his works are relevant. A lot of the words you use today, he invented, and personally I think you're ignorant if you think his marvelous texts are irrelevant today. He was the greatest writer of all time, and should be respected for being such.


Thank you! I need all this information for my project :D


I agree, Shakespeare is still relevant today. There might be words or phrases that we use today that we might not even know he contributed to the english language!


The choice to label something or someone as relevant is not individual. It is cultural, and our culture, British culture, the English language is founded, partly, on Shakespeare.

You wouldn't say that Gandhi was a legend out of personal choice -- he simply was. Same goes for famous artists - you cannot say they are irrelevant simply because you dislike them.

Also, you can link the themes and ideals from Shakespeare to today's society. Themes such as love, power and deception are going on all around you. Open your eyes.


You are all joking right? I mean, yes he contributed greatly to the development of modern English, but that doesn't mean that his works still hold true today all or even most off the time.

If this were a real debate the judge couldn't, wouldn't, and shouldn't accept the stretch between relevance and endurance. Just because one sector of the society repeatedly, over the generations thinks that they can link basically every plot, character, and theme to situations in modern society doesn't mean that that decision carries to everyone else.

The choice to label something as relevant is an individual one - that is, it's based upon the individual perspective. Therefore it becomes an individual choice as to determining the relevance of Shakespeare.

It should not necessarily be assumed that the younger generations find Shakespeare's plays and poems to be just as pertinent to the present as the scholars (obviously, I have made my choice - Shakespeare is rather antiquated).


The English language wouldn't exist without Shakespeare!


It would turn out like French -- and no one wants that!


It puzzles me; what it would the English language be without Shakespeare?


i totally agree. i mean duh! of course he helped all of us out!


Wow. Indeed shakespeare was a legend, entombed forever. As long as there is english, there is shakespeare.

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