Salesman Sangeeth Sajilal with copies of William Shakespeare’s classic at the Sharjah book fair. Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman/Gulf News


Who is William Shakespeare?

He was an English playwright, poet and actor who found success in London in the late 1590s. His plays on tradegies - such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth - are widely regarded as some of the best works in English. Experts say no serious study of English literature and theatre is complete without reading - and understanding - Shakespeare. He continues to influence writers, actors and filmmakers even today

Sharjah: Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest English writer, could be fading into obscurity for most people, booksellers and readers said on Wednesday at Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).

“Shakespeare who?” replied a woman at SIBF when asked if she reads William Shakespeare, the legendary 17th century English playwright whose works have been translated into every major living language.

Others at SIBF had heard of him - of course - but there was hardly anyone seen picking up one of his plays or poems on Wednesday afternoon. Some booksellers at SIBF don’t even stock Shakespeare.

“We don’t have Shakespeare books anymore because there is really no demand for them,” said Sarfaraz Nawaz, sales supervisor at Jashanmal bookstall at SIBF, which ends on Saturday.

So why are readers apparently turning the page on Shakespeare?

‘Too old’

“Most readers today feel Shakespeare is ‘too old’ in his use of classical English. His vocabulary, his flow – the way he builds up sentence structure – is too hard for many people to appreciate,” said Bouchikh Hussam, sales manager at the ‘Bookpoint & Hachette UK’ bookstall at SIBF.

Hussam, who is visiting from Algeria, added: “We get very few people buying Shakespeare. It’s usually the mum telling the child ‘you must read this’ or the student who buys it because the teacher asked for it. That’s because if you want to read English at its best, you have to read Shakespeare.”

At the DC Books stand, salesman Sangeeth Sajilal echoed those views.

“Many people have this perception that Shakespeare is too difficult to understand. We’ve only had one customer so far for Shakespeare since SIBF started [on October 31]. With Shakespeare, for most people, you need a teacher for every sentence,” Sajilal said.

Perhaps that is why it is usually taught in schools and colleges.

“I read Shakespeare in school because we had to. I don’t read his works for my own pleasure because of his old-style English,” said Anas Arkan, a 21-year-old Iraqi resident of Sharjah visiting SIBF.

Another visitor at SIBF, 19-year-old Egyptian Nayer Magdy, said: “I find Shakespeare boring. I like to read non-fiction and Shakespeare is too artsy for me.”

But Shakespeare being Shakespeare, there will always be fans.

“I’ve read most of his plays – it’s easy. I like Shakespeare because his description of characters is very detailed. If there are words I don’t understand, I just Google,” said Akshaj Sureshkumar, 12, at SIBF on Wednesday.

The grade seven student from India, who lives in Dubai, added that he enjoys the “old English” style of Shakespeare.

“Shakespeare still sells. We have only three titles left, the rest are gone now,” said Aileen Natura, a sales rep at Borders bookstall at SIBF.

“Even at our shop outside SIBF, people still buy Shakespeare. It’s young adults and sometimes their parents who buy his works,” Natura added.

At SIBF, individual plays of Shakespeare are priced at Dh10 to Dh15. Compilations of his works go for around Dh60 to Dh80, depending on the bookstall and paperback or hardback edition.