Celebrating 400 Years of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare has been celebrated, read, enacted and recited for decades. This year marks the 400th death anniversary of the bard. Subhadrika Sen takes a look at the relevance of Shakespeare in modern day literature and why the youth is attracted to his writings even today

William Shakespeare is a name that every literature student knows by heart.

William Shakespeare is a playwright whose plays have been enacted by all –actors and students of theatre.

William Shakespeare is a poet, whose sonnets still linger in the air long after he has gone.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

The year 2016 celebrates the 400th year of this legendary icon in theatre and English Literature. Even though he is not among us in person, his soul lives on through his works- read by thousands every year and performed by many world over. His language and writing style had developed the Shakespearean language altogether with asides, puns, soliloquies and the like. Some of his famous dialogues are re-iterated even today. Needless to mention, some of his most celebrated works include Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice and the list could go on. Thus, to honour his contribution, the world celebrates his 400th death anniversary.

A glimpse of the Exhibition
A glimpse of the Exhibition

The National Music Museum and the University of Dakota has displayed his First Folio as a special exhibit.  The University of Maryland is in possession of his Second Folio, which they are proudly displaying to the visitors. That apart, the exhibitions also include illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s works.

The BBC, British Library and Records of Early English Drama have come together in a unique gesture of mapping the places where Shakespeare could have performed his plays with his troupe. An enchanting journey through the Stratford –upon-Avon to remnants of old fort auditoriums, this documentary is sure to win the hearts of every Shakespeare fan.

Limited Edition stamps
Limited Edition stamps

The Royal Mail have launched special edition stamps and coins to honour this great bard. This can be purchased from their official website at http://www.royalmail.com/.

One of his most performed plays; King Lear would also be staged in the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre to pay a tribute to him. This play has been previously performed by many and won great awards, and in the days to come will be performed by the future generations as well.

Shakespeare was much ahead of his time in intellect and knowledge. His writings about the Refugee Crisis during the 1600’s are remarkably similar to the present condition of the refugees. Sir Thomas More, the advisor to Henry VIII was thought to have spoken these words. Henry VIII was originally said to have been written by Anthony Munday but Shakespeare was brought in to edit the manuscript and while re-writing he added his concern about the Refugees. The British Library is officially publishing this document which is said to be one of the few original hand-written documents of the playwright. This would also be made available for online access after it is officially published. Here, is a glimpse of what he had to say about the whole issue:

You’ll put down strangers
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in lyam

To slip him like a hound.
Alas, alas! Say now the King
As he is clement if th’offender mourn,
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you: whither would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour?
Go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, Spain or Portugal,
Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England:
Why, you must needs be strangers. (Scene 6, 134–45)

Youngsters today are well versed by some of his major works. Be it the original version, the abridged version or even the play; they have watched at least one of his works and have appreciated them with great admiration. Here is what some of them had to say about their favourite works by Shakespeare.

Kaustav Ghosh
Kaustav Ghosh

Kaustav Ghosh on Hamlet: Definitely the one which has asked so many unanswered questions, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. A university student embarking upon a near impossible task of avenging his father’s death not suited for the role. What does happen though is that Hamlet gains an insight into life by contemplating death- “readiness is all.” His metaphysical deaths are more overwhelming than his lifeless body on stage in the last scene. Hamlet is more attractive because every analysis that we do remains inconclusive, like his madness, feigned or real. The answers to questions in Hamlet probably hide behind that ‘arras’ through which Hamlet pierces his sword only to find that he has killed the wrong problem.

Krishna Nath Dutta
Krishna Nath Dutta

Krishna Nath Dutta on Julius Caesar: I liked the resemblance that “Julius Caesar” holds with the world today. We still come across political heroes like Caesar; some like Brutus, too good and easily deceived; cunning Cassius and some Portia’s still struggling to prove that they are no less than men. Superstitions still CHASE us and the ghosts born out of our deeds haunt us; very similar to the story.

Sumedha Bhattacharya
Sumedha Bhattacharjee

Sumedha Bhattacharjee on Macbeth: Because it revealed how Karma can slowly take its own course and set the balance back and it had a sense of mystery of eeriness to it as well.

Interestingly enough, after 400 years of his death a mystery regarding his missing skull still shrouds explorers. It has been said time and again that his skull was stolen from his grave and the one resting with his body for several years was not his. This has created great debates and curiosity in the hungry minds of the people who try to delve deeper into solving the mystery each and every day. There are many theories regarding the missing skull. While some say that it was removed by his relatives or loved ones only to be buried with their bodies; other are of the opinion that the skull was removed well before the body was actually buried.

According to Chris Laoutaris, of the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute – “ What if Shakespeare’s skull was disinterred not long after his burial and reburied with another family member or loved one?. . . .In an age in which high mortality rates meant that death was a far more vivid and ever-present reality than today, reacquainting oneself with the relics of the dearly departed in this manner may have seemed less strange, and was not in fact unheard of.”

In the words of Kevin Colls, who is the  Staffordshire University archaeologist to lead the investigation into Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, “It is of course possible that the skull was removed before the burial, and what our research has done is open a whole can of worms. But the fact is that our findings correlate so well with the documented theft in 1879 – particularly the reference to the grave being shallow. If it was going to be made up, the story would be entirely different.”

However, there are many who have contented themselves with this mystery and loathes delving deeper into it. Some prefer the bard to be left alone in his resting place –skull or no skull. Thus, in the words of John Hogg, who has run Stratford Town Walk with his wife Helen since 2002, “We don’t know for certain that the skull is missing – it’s important to remember that . . . .It is my personal feeling that he should be left alone now. . . . He’s laid there for 400 years. It’s time to allow the mystery to remain just that.”

To conclude, mysteries regarding William Shakespeare increases his fame and introduces him to every generation. His writings have immense contextual relevance, even in contemporary times. This is what the youth of today opines about the relevance of his writings in modern world.

Pragati Gupta
Pragati Gupta

According to Pragati Gupta, (M.A English from the University of Calcutta) “Shakespeare in today’s world has become more relevant than he was during his days since he wrote plays for his livelihood. I find a great deal of things in Shakespeare’s plays too apt to be aside. The tragedies simply attract me the most where a blend of powerful imagery and forceful rhetoric immortalises the very essence of the drama, where the conflicting paradigms project the required action on stage. As readers, we all love to go back to his tragedies and comedies and historical plays to figure out the workings of elements that form them. Be it Aristotelian definitions of pity and fear or catharsis of pent-up emotions, as a whole, Shakespeare comes to a full circle of the predicament of not only a hero figure but also that of a modern man.”

In other words, Shakespeare has always been able to capture the right emotion in man. His psychology worked perfectly in judging a character of a person or in enriching a character with such real emotions that; one cannot but find similarities in at least or some of their traits. A friend turned foe in Brutus is seen in everyday life; Greed destroys the simplicity of Macbeth including turning him to a killer; pent up guilt can make a man or a woman act disastrously like Lady Macbeth; the list of examples are numerous.

Prantik Mitra
Prantik Mitra

Prantik Mitra who has enacted many of Shakespeare’s plays opines, “A master of the quill, Shakespeare was undoubtedly the greatest playwright who inked plays of romance, tragedy, comedy, and history all galore of his unique dramatisation, for example, Shakespearean soliloquy. Be his quotes on love and philosophy or those geeky educated insults, he was but a man of supreme rhetoric. Having had the fortune to enact many of his plays and interpret them correlating with the present world, one work which I find can never lose significance is Julius Caesar. The shrewd oration skill of Antony stands even today and is particularly true for India. The recent acts of intolerance have identified this characteristic that you only need a small catalyst to spark the fire in society. Tell them their faith is in trouble and they blindly follow some anonymous, faceless voice into communal violence just as easy as it was for Antony to move the mob against the conspirators.”

Thus, Shakespeare was a timeless author, poet and playwright. His works, in the true sense cannot be restricted to only his days. It is ageless and would never die as long as society lives on.