Take a room full of people that have finished secondary education and ask them what they know about William Shakespeare. Better yet, ask yourself what you know about The Bard. You won’t find an endless supply of people that are an avid reader of his works, and it is unlikely that you will jump up and down with an eagerness to discuss him or his plays. Yet almost every person that you will ever meet will know his name, and each one will know something of his plays, no matter how little that may be. Take Romeo and Juliet: you would be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t know the tragic tale of the two young lovers. It could be that you were forced through an agonising study of King Lear at school, or had to sit through a lengthy performance of Macbeth under dim, gloomy lighting, at some stage in your education. The experience could be a negative one, or a delightful one, but the point remains. Perhaps something will even stick long enough to make them become more interested. Either way, it is undeniable that Shakespeare is integral to the fabric of our culture; an important part of not just literature, but history as a whole.
In essence, Shakespeare was a genius. His plays and sonnets are beautifully crafted. Words that have transformed over time so that they no longer arise in regular conversation, and yet in a society that frequently includes speech that can be coarse, foul and rough, sometimes it feels that Shakespeare’s magical, poetic speech would be a blessing. If only the world was as wonderful as the delightfully mischievous fairies that roam the forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; our only worry that we will wake with a donkey’s head, not that the world contains so much controversy and hurt… my apologies; Shakespeare’s marvellous word is enough to shake up anybody’s imagination, and so I digress.
When it comes to the relationship between the youth of today and Shakespeare, the sad truth of the matter is this. Most school children are uninterested in learning, let alone mustering up enough concentration to study Shakespeare’s works. It isn’t the fault of the curriculum, because if anything, the education system does its best to make Shakespeare accessible to children of all ages; from school productions to trips away to the theatre. Let’s be honest, any offer to get you out of your ordinary lessons is usually well received. Yet tragically, the problem persists. To endear Shakespeare’s plays to the children more interested in texting about the latest gossip under the table, is sadly like Macbeth’s attempts to remain in a position of power: he was always fighting a losing battle.
Despite the difficulty of persuading children to study Shakespeare, the fact remains that his legacy remains all over the world. Countless productions of his plays are made every year in both film and theatre, his works will never go out of print, and there remain university professors that devote themselves to discovering the magic in each and every one of his lines. His art is everywhere for those that care to look, despite the debates that still rage regularly about whether he even wrote his own works. It is a question that seems ridiculous to me, but one which reinforces one important point: that the interest in him, his writings and his past, is just as passionate and relevant as ever before.