Updated: Mar 31, 2022
Ashlee Jenson in her essay The Importance of Shakespeare speaks on how Shakespeare is important in academics and proves it with few examples. Her first point is that all Shakespearean plays have basic human subjects and are timeless. For example, Romeo and Juliet (love), Macbeth (greed), Hamlet (procrastination), Othello (jealousy), etc… and they all remain timeless. His foundation in the history of English literature is also intense. If in case a person is in need of developing their writing skill well, then there is no way other than Shakespeare, as his works are both modern and classic.
In order to understand the modernity in Shakespeare’s plays, one should be good with the former history of English writers. Modernity in his plays can be easily traced, for example, he has given the pattern for the evolution of dramas. His usage of prose in dialogues can be one of the features proving the point. The prose in a play during the Elizabethan period is used for the low-status characters, as it indicates day-to-day conversations and plain language. Characters like servants (in most of his plays), Porter (in Macbeth), Gravediggers (in Hamlet), etc… have prose in their dialogues. But in some special cases like Hamlet, he has used around 25% of prose which is higher than the other tragedies. Even Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene has prose in its dialogues this may be due to her madness (a madwoman need not speak poetically).
His artistry over the English language is shown through various aspects such as, a single line with different meanings, his coinage of new words in English as if he did not have enough vocabulary, and Phrases that are philosophic, simple, neat, and is used in everyday life. For the first, Ashlee gives an example from Richard III
Rivers. Have patience, madam; there's no doubt his Majesty Will soon recover his accustomed health.
Grey. In that you brook it ill, it makes him worse. Therefore for God's sake entertain good comfort And cheer his Grace with quick and merry eyes.
Queen Elizabeth. If [the King] were dead, what would betide on me?
Grey. No other harm but loss of such a lord.
Queen Elizabeth. The loss of such a lord includes all harms.2 (1.3.1-8)
In this scene, each and every character’s inner thoughts are revealed through their dialogues. At first, it appears all the characters are concerned about the king’s illness, but it's another way around. This way of language decoration is repeatedly used in many of his plays.
Vocabularies made by Shakespeare which are used in our contemporary life includes “amazement", "dislocate", "premeditated", "dexterously", "windle", "lackluster". Not just this the most common words such as, “elbow”, “green-eyed”, “lonely” were also coined by him. Another interesting factor is that Shakespeare might have been in love with the prefix “Un-“ because he has created plenty using it; Undress, Unaware, Uncomfortable, Unearthly, Unreal, etc.
Some of his phrases that are popular even at this age are; “Love is blind” from The Merchant of Venice, “kill with kindness” from The Taming of the Shrew, “Milk of human kindness” from Macbeth, “Jealousy is a green-eyed monster” from Othello, etc…
Shakespeare’s plays (that are powerful, poignant, comedic, tragic, and romantic) have been memorized and enacted all through the world with at most interest and passion than any other plays. In a film titled, Shakespeare in Love, Queen Elizabeth declares that William Shakespeare was the first author to successfully put the very essence and truth of love into words, considering the play Romeo and Juliet, though it’s an imaginary film, Ashlee says is true and it is this truth that attracted all the people of the Age irrespective of their status. As proof, the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet is the most romantic scene till now and anyone in this world would want to love it like Romeo and Juliet.
Hereby Ashlee proves that Shakespeare gives the substantial knowledge needed to the learners and so it should be a part of the syllabus for English literature. The writing skill of Shakespeare that portrays accurate human truth is extraordinary and has made his works last beyond 40 decades. She ends her essay with a precise statement “A creature cannot survive incomplete, and literature cannot survive without William Shakespeare”.
Jenson, Ashlee. The Importance of Shakespeare Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2003. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/essays/importance.html >.