The 450th Birthday of B.S.

Excuse my pun above, but I think The Bard would appreciate it. It is, in fact, the 450th birthday of William (Bill) Shakespeare. But, alas!, his writing is now relegated to the classroom, and viewed by the populous as a form of punishment. Today we remember the greatest dramatist who ever lived as a snobbish, inaccessible author. Fie on that. He wrote plays for the masses!

You and I are Shakespeare’s target audience, and today his work is more easily accessible than ever before. Thus, as an evangelizer of Shakespeare’s work, and in honor of his birthday, I’m going to offer 5 brief reasons why all people can/should enjoy Shakespeare’s work today. I’ll even drop a few suggestions on where to start:

1. You speak Shakespeare’s English. Modern English doesn’t exist without William Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 words and we still use most of them today. Let me offer a few: addiction, cold-blooded, eventful, eyeball, manager, and scuffle. Rappers couldn’t “swagger” had Shakespeare never writ, and no iPhones could be “bedazzled” apart from his plays. Many of our cliches find their source in Shakespeare. He was the first one to “break the ice” and “breath his last,” and offer “cold comfort” to many found “in a pickle.”

2. He’s easy to find on Netflix. Make it a date night. There are hundreds of Shakespeare adaptations out there. It used to be dreadful picking through the morass, and even worse attempting to locate a copy. No more! Many of the best adaptations are available through Netflix streaming. Check out Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Patrick Stuart’s Macbeth, Ian McKellan’s King Lear, or the recent (and excellent) cinematic take on Corialanus, starring Ralph Fiennes.

3. His work is relevant. (You can’t be culturally literate without it.) As if my first point didn’t make this case? Consider that some of our most treasured modern stories are based on Shakespeare, like The Lion King (it’s Hamlet with animals and music). He’s inspired film, music, and literature for centuries. The Bard won’t stop influencing us any time soon, and understanding the underpinnings of our cultural heritage is impossible without understanding him.

4. There is a reason people read him for centuries: the drama is good. You can read, watch, listen, and experience Hamlet a dozen times without fully tapping the psychological depths of Shakespeare’s hero. He’s profoundly Human. He speaks to our own anxieties about death, and what defines the good life. Characters like Iago and Lear incarnate the darkness of the human heart in ways that transcend time. The Bard makes us think about ourselves differently. He is true. And challenging. And good. See also, Richard III, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, & Julius Ceaser.

5. You’ll laugh. Seriously. You will. Shakespeare might sound like a bore, but remember that audiences kept coming back to hear more. Maybe it’s because his work is loaded with puns, double entendres, and all the idiosyncratic human ironies that make us laugh at ourselves and those we love. If you want to start out with a comedy check out Joss Whedon’s or Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. Also see The Taming of the Shrew. For a more serious, but still whimsical play see The Tempest.

I promise Shakespeare is good for more than pizza. Have a date night. Get some friends together. Celebrate the bard’s b-day, and you won’t regret it.

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