Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Saturday 22nd July 2017 | Manchester, UK

Shakespeare And His Legacy

Photo via @Wikipedia

Photo via @Wikipedia

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer of all time.  Shakespeare was a poet and an actor, but is undoubtedly most famous as a playwright.  The ‘Bard of Avon’ wrote 38 plays, which include 16 comedies, 12 tragedies and 10 histories. These have been translated into every major language, and Shakespeare’s plays have been performed more than any other playwright’s work.

One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays is Hamlet. Actors compete for the chance to mutter the famous line, “To be, or not to be, that is the question”. Another iconic play is Romeo and Juliet, the two star-crossed lovers, whose tragic love story has become a symbol of romanticism in popular culture. These roles are treasured by actors, due to the complexity of many Shakespearean characters, as well as the challenge of doing justice to the work of a man who was so eloquent with the English language.

Shakespeare, who died over 400 years ago, still influences literature and contemporary culture today, as many stories and plays are inspired by his work. This is especially true for films, from The Lion King (Hamlet), to 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew), to She’s The Man (Twelfth Night). Shakespeare is still as relevant today as he was 400 years ago. For example, his influence on the English language is seen in the continued usage of words he invented, like ‘addiction’, ‘bedazzled’, ‘eventful’ and ‘swagger’.

The Stratford-upon-Avon born writer is a British national treasure and his work is taught relentlessly in schools. One reason why the legacy of Shakespeare hasn’t faded overtime is because his work is being continuously reinvented.  Shakespeare’s work is timeless, as his storylines can be moulded to fit any situation, such as in Nicholas Hytner’s Othello, where Othello and Iago had fought in the Gulf War together.

Another contemporary tool to modernise Shakespeare is cross-gender casting, like with Maxine Peake as Hamlet and Kathryn Hunter as Richard III. This is why it is so unfortunate that Artistic Director Emma Rice will not be remaining at the Globe Theatre, as Rice has helped to modernise Shakespeare and continues to make his work relevant to a new generation of theatre goers.

William Shakespeare’s work is his legacy, because little is known about his personal life, except that he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children.  This obscurity has meant there has been speculation about his sexuality and physical appearance. Our ignorance in these elements of his life just makes him all the more intriguing. William Shakespeare is still relevant and fascinating 400 years on and will undoubtedly be just as awe-inspiring in another 400 years’ time.

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