Three Reasons Why Shakespeare Remains Relevant

October 13, 2015

English Professor Helga Duncan

With a premier Shakespearean acting company coming to campus shortly for a week’s residency, we asked English Professor Helga Duncan why Shakespeare remains so popular and what attracts modern audiences to the Bard's work. 

Adaptability: Shakespeare’s plays are malleable and quite easily adaptable in many contexts. The playwright may have lived in a world that is quite unlike our own in many ways, but audiences, then and now, respond to intrigue, violence, sex, and humor.  

Popular Touch: Shakespeare wrote to please audiences; the popular theater that employed him was not highbrow or elitist in a contemporary sense. Audiences paid to see Lear and the Fool; profits mattered. From everything we know about London theaters circa 1600, Shakespeare was a businessman and an artist. I am convinced that Shakespeare would work in the film industry if he were alive today—for artistic and monetary reasons.

Great Publicity: Shakespeare has benefited tremendously from sustained publicity campaigns, beginning with a group of his friends who decided to publish a volume of his plays (now known as the First Folio) in 1623, seven years after his death. And in a sense, the advertising has not stopped since. Great writers around the globe have revised or challenged his work, and teachers have encouraged their students to love the plays and the poetry. An entire industry of Shakespeare scholarship has been going strong for centuries; and the modern medium of film has turned Shakespeare into a new kind of cultural icon—Will would love it all.

The Actors from the London Stage will be on campus starting October 26, working with faculty and staff as well as performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For more, visit here.