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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?

Yes, Shakespeare is universal and timeless. Show more Show less

The depth and beauty of Shakespeare's writings helps them to resonate today and into the future.
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William Shakespeare's penmanship transcends temporal bounds

Shakespeare's particular form of style and language is unique to him. The standards of writing he created shaped the complexity and beauty of his works, and has made them timeless.
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Proponents


The Argument

The fact that Shakespeare’s universality is being debated more than four centuries after his death proves his undeniable impact on not just literature as a subject, but language as a medium of communication. His literary works mark a transition from the use of Middle English to early modern English; a distant ancestor to the contemporary language now in everyday use. Unhappy with the outcome of conforming to the traditional writing styles of the period, as seen in his early plays like “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”, he went on to not just break the norms of writing but set up standards that influenced all the writers to come. Those standards are upheld even to this day. Writing in a rhythm known as iambic pentameter[1] lent his plays and sonnets a theatrical, musical quality that captured and held the attention of the listener. He used some in his plays like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Romeo and Juliet” to hone his writing skills, and the use of metaphors and tropes to ultimately achieve perfection with two of his most famous tragedies, “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”. Shakespeare’s use of soliloquies (monologues) does not just help in furthering the plot but also enables the reader to get a glimpse into the psyche of his characters--such as one of his most Machiavellian villains, Iago--making it one of the earliest methods of introspection visible to the audience. Furthermore, it puts forward the notion of unacted upon thoughts. Often we have thoughts running through our mind, which if acted upon, would be considered unacceptable by society. Shakespeare’s characters, being dynamic, were not immune to this inherently human quality, and thus through soliloquies, the audience was able to see the true intentions of characters and the strong influence that society exerted upon them. What made Shakespeare the witty genius as we know him to be now was his hidden subtext delivered through his layered penmanship that held a mirror up to society, regardless of the era.

Counter arguments

Shakespeare’s literary genius was considered profound, not just during the Elizabethan Age, but even today during the 21st century. One of the main reasons for his everlasting legacy is the universality of the social issues that he addressed through his work. This legacy, however, is slightly dampened by the fact that the language of his plays is conducive for the stage and not a book. Today, Shakespeare is more widely read than performed, hindering the enjoyment of his works. As a result, those not well versed in Elizabethan English, or even English for that matter, find it challenging to follow the dialogues and soliloquies that are the true reflection of his astute craftsmanship.

Premises

[P1] Shakespeare's use of language is self-reflective.

Rejecting the premises


References

  1. https://www.lexico.com/definition/iambic_pentameter

This page was last edited on Sunday, 14 Jun 2020 at 05:31 UTC

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