Three reasons why we still study Shakespeare

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Ever wondered why we still study Shakespeare’s work, even though he died over 400 years ago? His plays and poems are still taught in classrooms across the English-speaking world, and once you get past the thous and doths, there’s a lot you can learn from his work. Here’s our top three reasons:

  1. Shakespeare teaches us how to read hard things, like technical manuals, business plans, and legal documents
  2. Shakespeare shows us how to borrow from others
  3. Through Shakespeare, we can understand that truth is stranger than fiction

Shakespeare’s plays and poems are generally taught from late primary through to senior high school, which means that most of us are going to exposed to Shakespeare in some shape or form before we finish school. Those who really fall for the bard can even continue to study his work and its impact at university, if they so choose.

You might find yourself studying his actual plays in their original, hard-to-read format, or you might get to engage with Shakespeare through a modern interpretation – there’s a vast collection of reinterpretations (think The Lion King, 10 Things I Hate About You, West Side Story, for just a few) because his stories have universal appeal that touches on how people live, love, and interact with each other.

There are lots of reasons why we should continue to study Shakespeare now and in the centuries to come, but here are three key ones that might help you make sense of why you’re learning it right now:

Reason 1 – Shakespeare teaches us how to read hard things, like technical manuals, business plans, and legal documents

Let’s not beat around the bush – Shakespeare is hard. There’s a lot going on, he uses some pretty flowery language, and his characters are complex to understand, which means reading Shakespeare is good preparation for real life. If you can decipher Shakespeare’s text then you’ll have the skills to be able to understand complex documents at work and throughout your life, such as rental agreements and financial statements.

Reason 2 – Shakespeare shows us how to borrow from others

Shakespeare didn’t pull all his ideas out of his own head – he used fairy stories, historical fact, and even the work of other playwrights as inspiration for his plays. Since that time, other authors, screenwriters, authors, and songwriters have used Shakespeare’s plays as inspiration for their own stories.

There’s a good chance that at some point you’ll also need to borrow from the work of someone else, whether that’s writing a contract from a template, creating lesson plans as a teacher, or writing sales copy for social media ads. Being able to understand how others have adapted Shakespeare’s work can help you learn the skills to do the same in your life.

Reason 3 – Through Shakespeare, we can understand that truth is stranger than fiction

We live in a complex world and receive a huge amount of information (and disinformation) through a variety of channels. Being able to recognise what is true or not is difficult, and the truth itself is also open to interpretation, but when we read Shakespeare we learn to interpret his version of reality.

Many of his plays are actually based on historical events which took place, but he used his plays to retell these events in a way which pleased his masters (and very famous mistress). Comparing his interpretation with evidence about what actually took place can help us build the skills to identify when we may be being influenced, whether that is by the media, politicians, or advertisers. You may also need to use these skills one day if you work in PR or advertising.

When will you use Shakespeare?

Shakespeare created a vibrant, ruthless, and vivid world which we still get to visit today, and you will probably use the skills you gain through reading Shakespeare in your life.

Think about it this way – if you ever plan on signing legal documents, writing social media posts, or reading the news, then Shakespeare will give you skills to help you interpret, understand and analyse what’s going on. 

Want more resources?

Check out Shakespeare’s original theatre, The Globe, the Bell Shakespeare Company offer programs for Australian students, and the Royal Shakespeare Company continue to perform his work around the world.

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