“Timeless” Shakespeare

Read an interesting article on Shakespeare last week. This of course, was telling me something I already knew. But it is interesting to see how misunderstood Shakespeare still is in this day and age, even amongst schoolteachers who, really should know better than to call his work “timeless”.

Unless “timeless” is preceded with the necessary caveats, of course.

Yes, at this point of time he is revered as one of the most outstanding dramatists/poets of all time. He might be a household name now, but he certainly did not mean for that to be the case. This image says it all:

Why would the man move from the country to the city? How would the man have paid his rent? Shakespeare has been described as an author who possessed an uncanny flair for tapping into the subtle nuances of the human condition, but why was that so? He had to – it was a sure-fire way of reaching out to audiences so as to fill up as many seats as he could in the theatres!

To really know how the Bard meant for his work to be received, we only have to look at the publication history of his plays. The only reason why his plays survive today is due to the efforts of two of his colleagues, Heminges and Condell. These two gentlemen took it upon themselves to compile his work, and if not for their efforts, Shakespeare would never have been regarded as the cultural icon we know him as today.

This tells us something.

The fact that Shakespeare did not bother to take his plays to a publisher suggests one thing to us: that he really did not care about them enough to regard them as literary works! The plays were printed and circulated, but never by a major publisher.

Shakespeare wrote to entertain! Not to sell books (at least as far as his plays are concerned)! Thus, the contemporary equivalent of studying Shakespeare’s plays would be studying the oeuvre of a film director such as Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino. Like these directors, Shakespeare wrote for the purposes of entertainment.

And he did really well.


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'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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