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Shakespeare can be difficult to understand. He wrote his plays in the 1600s, so of course you will struggle with the language at first. However, once you get the hang of it, you might find yourself laughing and crying through his comedies, tragedies, and histories. If you still need some persuading to crack open the book, check out these three reasons to study the most famous bard. The best part is that many teachers have the class read the plays aloud in class meaning less work for you to take home with you.
What young person doesn't like to go to a summer blockbuster and watch an action adventure movie? Shakespeare knew this about his audience, too--but, back in the day, the audience saw his work live and on the stage. There are plays that take place during bloody wars, on the high seas, in violent storms, and similarly tumultuous venues. Most of these are his tragedies, such as Macbeth, Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, etc.
He created interesting characters who have a terrible flaw or by circumstances have their lives go haywire. He focused on the characters "going to the dark side" or their anger. His plays are not all about star-crossed lovers. The main characters get mad, get mean, and get even. The play Hamlet is a perfect example of this.
Reason #2 -- He is romantic
Just about everybody knows who Romeo and Juliet are. Young love always gets the girls' attention. And, of course, the two lovers both die in the end, which can drop jaws for the first-time reader. The deaths at the end actually define the play Romeo and Juliet as a tragedy. The plays that are generally called his romantic plays are as follows: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. However, Shakespeare adds "sparkle" to his romances, such as magic or use of the supernatural. He makes love so special.
He is also very good about making his character’s love problems relatable. Even though A Midsummer Night’s Dream is usually listed as a comedy, most middle school and high school students can relate to the characters' love troubles. Lysander likes Hermia and Demetrius likes Hermia. To add to the drama, Helena, Hermia’s best friend, likes Demetrius. And of course, Hermia’s dad does not want Hermia dating Lysander. If you change the names, does that sound like anyone’s love life you know?
Reason #1 -- He was and is relevant for the average person (not joking)
Of course the best playwright to ever come out of England performed before kings and queens. Some students might be surprised to learn that he performed for groundlings too. Groundlings were people who stood in the "pit" or the "cheap seats." A funny fact is that they were also called the "Stinkards". These "average Joes" or young apprentices would stand for three hours applauding loudly during the plays.
For the student reader, focus on the characters and their problems will seem somewhat like your own. They fight over the same things we fight over: the opposite sex, money, power and land. That is what makes them classics. Shakespeare just makes it more fun using the supernatural or magic. He also uses beautiful settings around Europe and, of course, the conflict of war.
Today, Shakespeare's plays are performed all over the planet. Each director takes a different spin on these time worn stories. So, you never know where the plays will be set or what the actors will wear on stage. And, you if you work past his language, you might just enjoy reading the plays in class.
- Reading Shakespeare Has a Dramatic Effect on the Brain, from PhysOrg.
- Is Shakespeare Relevant Today?, from WiseGeek.com
- Reading Shakespeare's Plays, from ShakespeareHigh.com
- Photo Reference: Wikimedia Commons