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< Back to question Is Shakespeare's writing universal and timeless? Show more Show less

Ben Jonson described Shakespeare as being "for all time" - that is, his works resonate with all time periods and peoples. His body of work spans poetry and plays, many of which are the most praised, quoted and performed still today. Is the work of Shakespeare truly this universal and timeless?

No, Shakespeare's writing is of his time and place. Show more Show less

Shakespeare's writing so reflects the time and place in which he wrote that it cannot be universal nor timeless.
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The linguistic gap between the 16th century and now makes Shakespeare dated

Shakespeare’s legacy has probably surpassed even his wildest imaginations. He has been the constant star showing direction to literature enthusiasts. However, with time his light has been steadily diminishing on account of the increasing brightness of modernization of the 21st century in different avenues including and especially language.
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The Argument

In the 16th century, Shakespeare wrote plays to earn a living, using language that was most commonly used at that time. It was his characterization and subtlety while dealing with social issues that carried his legacy through four hundred years after his death. Nevertheless, in the 21st century, Shakespeare’s relevance is continually being questioned, and one of the main reasons for this doubt is his outdated language. Shakespeare's plays exude aura and charm when they are being enacted on stage. Today, however, his legacy is carried forward by students all over the world studying his plays from a book. The dramatic effect of watching Hamlet contemplate “to be or not to be” as he talks to Yorick’ skull, in the palm of his hand, is lost when one simply reads the script. While reading a Shakespearean play, because of the unfamiliar language, one tends to focus on the words and their literal meanings printed on the page, instead of the actions, motives, tone, mood and depth of the character. Language is not static but dynamic in nature. As a result, the meanings attached to certain words change over time and context. This is particularly true concerning Shakespearean English, as seen plainly in Romeo and Juliet. Lamenting over the feud between their two families, Juliet utters, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”[1] While a modern English interpretation would have been Juliet asking about whereabouts of Romeo, in Shakespearean terms, wherefore refers to why, and not where. Shakespeare’s language, though being extraordinarily witty and compelling for the Elizabethan Age, fails to light a similar spark in the 21st century because of the shift in language dynamics.

Counter arguments

Shakespeare wrote at a time when the Elizabethan form of the English language was the predominant one. Furthermore, his use of the language was revolutionary as it marked the transition from middle English like that of Chaucer to the modern one which we currently use. He did not only invent new words which are still in practice but also helped standardize the language and set basic grammatical rules for its use. Shakespeare wrote his dialogues in iambic pentameter which did not only lend his plays a dramatic and poetic quality but also held the attention of the viewers. It also made his dialogues easy to remember which in turn also succeeded in pulling the non-theatre goers into the world of drama. Knowledge of Shakespeare’s works which influenced many who came after him is important to have a well-rounded understanding of both drama, English literature and language.

Premises

[P1] Reading Shakespeare's plays makes it harder to understand them as the meanings of words change over time. [P2] Shakespeare's works are dated.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Shakespeare revolutionized language by creating new words that we still use today. [Rejecting P2] Shakespeare's works are timeless.

References

  1. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1777/pg1777-images.html

This page was last edited on Sunday, 21 Jun 2020 at 21:06 UTC

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