For four centuries, William Shakespeare has captivated people all over the world with his spellbinding collections of plays and poetry. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare and yet, it has inspired a series of impressive and imaginative festivities in honour of the extraordinary playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon.
The grand cultural programme is rich, ranging from theatre productions, poetry readings, to exhibitions of his memorabilia, contemporary artworks, and even offering a free, six-week online course by the British Council that explores the life, works and legacy of Shakespeare. Top on my wish-list is to wander the stunning cottage gardens of Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare’s wife), where tourists are promised a live recital of his lulling sonnets, then slowly drift off to a heart-shaped lavender maze, followed by a tranquil walk along the woodland plotted with many of the trees, blooms and roses featured in Shakespeare’s writings. I already feel myself turning into Juliet.
In all honesty, reading Shakespeare has not been a love-at-first-sight moment for me. I can still remember the unified groans exhaled by my classmates and I when we were asked to glean precious pearls of wisdom amid a torrent of puzzling prose from the macabre Macbeth. However, part of the excitement of delving into a literary adventure is to question why particular prose, such as Shakespeare’s, can travel the world and mesmerise readers for centuries. Parents and teachers can play an important part in grooming tomorrow’s distinguished authors.
For those budding Emirati writers wishing to take their writing further, allow me to share some of the aspects that make Shakespeare’s works so distinctive.
Shakespeare’s eloquence in expressing the range of universal themes in simple yet eloquent prose is probably his greatest forte and the reason for his enduring popularity. His plays and poetry portray intense, yet contrasting human emotions; love, friendship, forgiveness, discord, revenge and jealousy. When we think of love, our hearts flutter at the remembrance of Romeo and Juliet. When we seek loving passages, we resort to Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Budding writers can seek their muse from other historical eras, cultures and realms. Shakespeare was an avid history reader and wove his imagination with dramatic historical characters and events to create the Roman plays (Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra) and his ten history plays that cover various reigning English monarchs between the 12th and 16th centuries. Shakespeare’s settings also cover other countries or realms, such as Denmark, Greece and the fairy world. Reading his works is an amazing way to travel to other cultures and historical periods, stirring up fascinating cross-cultural dialogues.
Crafting enthralling plots
One of the many thrills of reading Shakespeare’s works is to be dazzled by his inventive ability to make words dance on paper. No author in the western world has had the ability to pen a myriad of memorable lines so revered by readers. If you cannot find words to express how you feel about something, you may seek inspiration from Shakespeare’s prose. Some favourites of mine include: To be, or not to be: that is the question (Hamlet), Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires (Macbeth), The course of true love never did run smooth (A Midsummer’s Night Dream). Master dialogue and you shall be quoted devotedly.
Crafting enthralling and gripping plots is essential to keeping the attention span of readers long enough to finish reading the work and revel about it for centuries. The era during which Shakespeare wrote had a profound influence on his writing style. During Shakespeare’s time, authors wrote plays for the enjoyment of the masses, especially for those who were illiterate. Sophisticated productions were almost non-existent and that is the reason why dialogue and plot were considered the most important parts of plays. Also, not many people may ponder about the fact that Shakespeare was himself an actor. Thus, he had the cleverness to pen action-packed stories with lots of memorable scenes that we could relate to even today.
Equally fit to play the part is the troop of charming characters, whom we grow to adore, empathise with and remember long after finishing their stories. Whose heart has not ached for Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers doomed to separation because of their feuding families? Did we not, for a moment, empathise with the hateful moneylender Shylock from The Merchant of Venice because Venetians have neglected the rights of minority groups that he must remind them that he has “hands, organs, dimensions, senses” similar to theirs.
In A Midsummer’s Night Dream, we enjoy a revelry of action as two love-struck Athenians, Lysander and Demetrius, fall in love with the same girl Hermia while her best friend, Helena, is enraged with jealousy.
So you see, classic literature can be truly appreciated when we unravel its beautiful and mysterious depths. This year makes one thing clear: beautiful literature will remain eternally cherished and preserved. Shakespeare’s transcendent works are a beacon of inspiration, creating more beautiful works with time. His characters are endlessly fascinating, his language, though sophisticated, is sublime, richly varied, and movable across the globe. What more can a writer hope to achieve for his works? As Portia from The Merchant of Venice says, “How far that little candle throws his beams”.