William Shakespeare's Relevance Today

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William Shakespeare's Relevance Today

For as long as formal education has existed in Britain it has been a

largely standard assumption that teaching the works of William

Shakespeare is relevant and necessary. Perhaps the relevance of his

writing is taken for granted, perhaps it is necessary to re-examine

the role of Shakespeare for the modern audience. There are indeed many

people who question the relevance of this 440 year old playwright to a

21st century audience, taking it even as far as perhaps the greatest

heresy of all, questioning the necessity of GCSE pupils learning

Shakespeare at all. This “proposed vandalism from the policymakers”

(Guardian 09/02/01) is opposed wholesale by supporters of “the Bard”

ranging from critics to academics to thespians. However can it be said

there is truly grounds for the importance attributed to the works of

Shakespeare, or is he, rather like Beefeaters and Ravens at the tower,

an anachronistic national obsession really only appreciated in the

modern era by history hungry tourists?

The most obvious first point to consider in answering this question is

the undeniable fact that the intended audience for Shakespeare’s work

was late 16th century Elizabethan England and not early 21st century

Blairite Britain. Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding

of history would be more than aware that much has changed in society

since this time. Taking what is widely acclaimed as Shakespeare’s

crowning artistic achievement, King Lear, as an example (as is the

intention of the majority of this work), a strong case can perhaps be

made to say that much of the intended theme and content is, by and


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...yman, Norfolk

Marsh, Nicholas, “Shakespeare: The Tragedies” 1998 Macmillan Press,


Rehder, R.M, “York Notes: William Shakespeare: King Lear” 1980 Longman

Group, Essex

Websites and Online Resources

BBC Education – King Lear (various authors, none cited.)


Revolinski, Elaine 2002


RSC – Online Play Guides, King Lear (various authors, none cited.)


Schneider, Ben Ross, Jr. "King Lear in Its Own Time: The Difference

that Death Makes." 1995, Lawerence University


Sutherland, John 2001, Guardian 09/02/01


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