The literary canon
March 7, 2015
All throughout high school, students have no choice but to study the ‘classics’, examining at least one of Shakespeare’s plays each year. William Shakespeare lived and wrote in England in the 1500s to 1600s, so why is his work still being studied worldwide hundreds of years later? The simple answer is that he is part of the literary canon, a Western construct of the best writers and the best works, for all to study.
Shakespeare is so important because not only did he tell amazing stories, and create brilliant characters, but he also outlined human interactions. He wrote about themes like anger, family, violence, and love, which are timeless microcosms of human existence that remain relevant today.
Today, many artists and writers are still drawn in by the intensity of his plays and poems. Evidently, Shakespeare is still such a great influence to those in his craft. For instance, the 1961 American musical drama West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet. Students can learn who influenced much of modern literature and drama, which would be Shakespeare.
Not only are his works great, but Shakespeare actually invented a lot of the words and phrases that we use today. Just to name a few, some are: ‘rant’, ‘amazement’, ‘champion’, ‘bet’, and ‘kill with kindness.’ Also, some say that even the popular knock-knock joke was first used by Shakespeare! Without Shakespeare, so much of our language would be missing, or it would at least have taken longer to catch on. He was a very intelligent and innovative man who was well ahead of his time, and it should be an honour to continue to study his work.
As lovely as Shakespeare is, students often have difficulty when it comes to understanding his plays, as the writing style is quite outdated. That being said, his writing is considered Early Modern English, although some blindly refer to it as Old English. Realistically, it is much easier to understand Early Modern English than Old English, which is actually Anglo-Saxon, or more like Old German.
Obviously, the fact that Shakespeare is still studied means that there is still a place in this society for his tales. There may be a day when there are too many differences between the present and Shakespeare’s time to study it as English, and Shakespeare might be studied only as history. Until then, students should still study Shakespeare, and try their best to connect with his work, while also reading more modern books. It serves as an interesting comparison of the progress of literature as a whole.