Article by Mellisa Dy
Photo by Jinny Park
Shakespeare is a permanent fixture in every English class. Yes, he is the one who wrote the confusing, boring play you have to read to pass your final. What exactly is so special about Shakespeare’s plays? Why must students study his work year after year, despite barely understanding his centuries-old version of English? And who writes in iambic pentameter anyway?
Is Shakespeare overrated? Perhaps not. After all, his plays contain themes that are still relevant to modern teenagers. Who can resist a good love triangle, like the one in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”? More than a few students have had a backstabbing so-called “friend”, similar to Iago from “Othello”. And of course, like Hamlet, everyone has their sulking, moody, “misunderstood-teenager” moments.
Drama teacher Ms. Monsod describes Shakespeare’s work as a “limitless playground” (playground, anyone?). Everyone can enjoy something or take away something from his plays. “For intellectuals and idealists, there is exquisite poetry; for escapists, sex and violence; for actors, complex characters that can be interpreted in multiple ways; for directors and designers, staging at any time period in human history, and as minimally or as extravagantly as the imagination allows”. His irresistibility stems from the adaptability and flexibility of his plays, and the relatability of his characters.
It is this relatability that makes Shakespeare a genius. “Even after centuries, we still gasp when Juliet awakens in the Capulet vault just moments after Romeo has drunk the poison (Nooooo!). We shake our heads when Iago weaves yet another lie and Othello falls for it yet again (D’oh),” says Ms. Mazarakis, HS English teacher and a big Shakespeare fan. “It’s because they are not just mere characters in a play – they’re examples of our humanity. They’re just like our friends and our crushes and our parents – and what’s more relatable than that?” she continues. That is why people still read Shakespeare — they love his stories. “He has captured the human condition in his words, and I think we can all learn a little bit about ourselves from what he’s said”.
Mr. Cook, an English teacher, certainly thinks very highly of The Bard of Avon as well. “Shakespeare is the center of the western literary canon because of the way he captures the paradoxical nuances of western consciousness via the characters he creates,” he says, “but even more so because of the unparallelled poetic genius of his language”. His work has shaped our beliefs and philosophies, has inspired our art, and has changed what it means to be human. “Shakespeare’s works are genius; they are mind-expanding; they are a gift and the due inheritance of every generation because his insights into the human condition reveal us to ourselves” stated Mr. Cook.
Shakespeare is still relevant today because he wrote sensitively and profoundly about the human condition and what it means to be alive. To anyone dreading the ‘Shakespeare season’ in English class, just think: there will be drama, romance, betrayal, inappropriate jokes, tragedy, action, and puns. Lots of puns. The language may be daunting at first, and it will be difficult to read, but also extremely rewarding. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even grow to love iambic pentameter.