Celebrating four centuries of Shakespeare

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‘For in that sleep of death what dreams may come’ – Hamlet

3211616890_f94356abe6_mShakespeare’s dreams have certainly continued over the past 400 years, and we couldn’t let the week pass without reflecting on his impact on modern communications.

How does an individual maintain such a dedicated fan base, such loyalty to their brand, for more than four centuries?

One reason, perhaps, is that his plays and sonnets are responsible for adding thousands of words and phrases to the English language – examples include: gloomy, lonely, majestic, reliance, hurry, leapfrog, excellent, tongue-tied, seen better days, fair play, foul play, dead as a doornail, my own flesh and blood, set your teeth on edge, without rhyme or reason, laughing stock, didn’t sleep a wink and if the truth were known. (Find more words here).

Love him or loathe him, he was a master of choosing the right word or phrase for the moment. He was a genius when it came to inventing totally surprising yet deeply evocative ways of saying things. He worked artfully with words, leaving you to feel and see the imagery he was creating. All without television.

Although we can only imagine the amazing work he could do with modern television.

Thinking back to year 12 English (gasp, no Literature Majors in the office today!), his plays underlying themes often deal with lies and sin, and the consequences of these behaviours. Think Macbeth. His plays are a looking glass into to the lives of others – much like a modern soap opera or reality TV program. We love to hate some characters. We want to see and know more about all characters – the good and the bad. Shakespeare touches on all great human emotions: love, hate, greed, honesty, selfishness, mercy, lust, power and justice to name a few.

400 years later we still talk about Shakespeare’s work, we study it at school and there have also been adaptions of his work into contemporary works. His characters have stood the test of time so well they have continued to see Shakespeare’s imprint on some of today’s most popular television shows and films.

Shakespeare’s characters full of depth, psychological mysteries and suspense have also continued to take their place on the modern stage.

A few examples:

  • Romeo and Juliet 1996 – featuring guns instead of swords. A baby-faced (now) Oscar winner Leonardo Decaprio
  • 10 Things I Hate about you 1999 – An adaption of The Taming of the Shrew – the ‘Shrew’ in this case being Julia Stiles.
  • Another Romeo and Juliet adaption: Sharks and Jets anyone? Capulets/Montagues. West Side Story basically takes the pressure between the star-crossed lovers from Romeo and Juliet and sets the story in Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the ’50s, roll in costumes and super catchy music.

William Shakespeare is remembered for both his work and and what seems a great understanding of human nature.

To end. A favourite quote. Let’s see if you studied this one at school…

“Be not afraid of greatness: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” — Twelfth Night

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