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To Be or Not to Be

To Be or Not to Be

By Chaitali Wadhwa

Edited by Nidhi Singh, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

Have you ever heard that a man has lived for 450 years? One such legend does exist in society. He continues to inspire many, educate many and impart knowledge. Several criticize him while quite a few fail to understand what message he is trying to convey.

April 23, 2014 saw the 450th birth anniversary of the greatest poet, author and scriptwriter the world has seen. Men have come and men have gone but no one has been able to match the excellence and skill that the great writer has been able to manage.

William Shakespeare has become an important landmark in English literature. 198 pieces of literature — including 154 Sonnets, 6 other long poems and 38 plays. The plays consist of 13 comedies, 10 histories, 10 tragedies and 5 romances. His works have, and continue to, leave a deep impact on the audience and the readers.

The language is now archaic. It has been 500 years since the plays were first performed in Elizabethan England. Does The Bard of Avon have relevance in the 21st century?

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.

The writings of this country boy from Stratford are legendary. Thoughts and images came so easily from his pen that other writers have found his talent almost criminal. English had never sounded so good and has rarely sounded that way since.

Not only was Shakespeare so well accomplished in his writing skills that he has become an undeniably significant point in the history of literature, but a majority of his works were written on such basic human themes that they will endure for all time and must not be allowed to slip into the tragic oblivion of old age. Shakespeare’s ability to summarize the range of human emotions in simple, yet profoundly eloquent, verse is perhaps the greatest reason for his enduring popularity.

There can be no doubt that Shakespeare was a master of the artistry of the English language. He wrote with such fluidity of thought, word, rhythm and sound that the work is presented in a complex manner, but is not unintelligible, even for the inexperienced reader. Often a single line would have several different meanings, each providing us with insight into a character or plot. Shakespeare often did, and so on occasion created his own form of grammar and vocabulary, much of which has since become common use. Many of the common expressions now thought to be clichés were Shakespeare’s creations.

Shakespeare was quite forward-thinking for his time, especially in an age when women were not even allowed to perform on stage. His female characters (then played by men) were not sidelined; in fact, many of them had critical roles to play in his dramas. In Twelfth Night, Viola, while disguised as a man, uses her intelligence to integrate herself into a foreign court and win the affection of Duke Orsino. And who could forget the infamous Lady Macbeth, the shrewish Katherine or the wise Portia, among so many others?

By using just the right combination of words or by conjuring just the right image, Shakespeare authored countless passages and entire plays so powerful, poignant, comedic, tragic and romantic that many are still being routinely memorized and performed today, nearly four centuries later. Yet, the beauty of Shakespeare’s talent lies not so much in the basic themes of his works as in the ingenuity with which he painted these portraits of love, power, greed, discrimination, hatred and despair.

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.

The extraordinary writing skills with which Shakespeare created his accurate portrayals of human truth have not been rivalled or replicated since his death, nearly four hundred years ago. To simply “skim over” such an integral part of literary history would be to take the innards out of a living, breathing creature. A creature cannot survive incomplete, and literature cannot survive without William Shakespeare.

A pass out from Bluebells School International, Chaitali is currently a 1st year student at Amity Law School Delhi, IP University. She is passionate about writing and loves to compose poems. She likes to spend her free time reading novels and also enjoys watching television. She aspires to be a successful environmental lawyer and would like to bring justice to those whose voices go unheard. Have a look at her blog Feel free to contact her at [email protected]

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