William Shakespeare: 448 and still going strong!

Ananya Bhattacharya

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones…”

- Mark Antony, (‘Julius Caesar’, 3.II)

The author, who wrote these very words, might have been addressing a debatable truth, but as far as his own case stands, he managed to turn it inside-out. William Shakespeare. That name itself is enough to make high-schoolers shiver and scholars delighted. On the one hand when bardolatry slowly found its way into English literature and William Shakespeare was revered above any other person in English; during his own life he was praised but not worshipped, admired but hardly loved. That was the 16th Century England.

A long four centuries down the line, the present day stands testimony to the way Shakespeare went on to become synonymous with English literature. And like every other great person, William Shakespeare too, was ahead of his times. Well, he transcended to a level that is hardly any other writer’s prerogative. He has been baptized with the word ‘timeless’. So much so, that sitting in a cosy room in 2012, Desdemona’s screams still rent the air around me, and Hamlet’s dilemma is still embraced by every other person as their own.

Back in the 1580s, the bearded bard did not have many resources to his disposal. With his taper and quill, he set out to create wonders that the world hadn’t known before him, and that which the world has hardly known after him. The rich fertile mind of the dramatist, despite finding any strong resonance during his days, stepped ahead of others and created masterpieces which – till date – turn the hair of many scholars grey. Shakespeare holds the unique record of being the writer whose works have been researched, used, adapted, drawn allusions from, re-moulded, and the like. This genius, born on the shores of Avon in Stratford, was the third child among eight, and the eldest surviving child of the Shakespeare family.

Shakespeare’s personal life is one that was speckled with many highs and lows. At the young age of 18 when he showed his thumb to many existing societal taboos and married a woman eight years older than him, he received sharp castigation from many sections of the society. But that could serve as no deterrent for the playwright, and thereafter began the most productive period of his life. Very few historical traces have been unearthed about this man, and many more lie buried under the debris of ages.

Despite being a reputed and respected playwright during his time, the zenith of recognition that Shakespeare enjoys now has only taken place with the advent of newer mindsets and denser treatment of literary pieces in the 19th century. His pedestal is unshakeable, his influence irrevocable. They say once you fall in love with Shakespeare, even God can’t replace him. And once you fall in love with Shakespeare, you know that they don’t exaggerate.

About 37 plays that Shakespeare has gifted to English have played and still play a phenomenal role in the metamorphosis of the language. Many phrases have permeated into the modern language, and many extinct words have regained their sheen, thanks to the brush of Shakespeare. Like an old man’s staff, Shakespeare’s works have supported the English language and helped it steer forward through the many mazes of time. His present of 154 sonnets has altered the way lovers think about their loved ones. Spenserian phrases of worship and unrequited love lost their way into Shakespeare’s practical, caustic language. His perfect iambic pentameters, his flawless blank verses, his baroque sentences have all helped English escalate to a position which is almost insurmountable now.

William Shakespeare’s plays are intricately woven with the quality of timelessness at its core. Despite being the playwright who has been translated into most languages, his plays have hardly lost anything in translation. The intricately woven plots, the nuanced happenings, the perfectly fleshed-out characters, the believable themes and the imperfectness of his heroes – every single thing has only added layers to his writings. Even four centuries down the line, despite being interpreted zillion-or-more times, in spite of translating and re-translating, Shakespeare’s works are an extraordinary example of the ability to survive. His works have been like an avalanche. They might have had humble inceptions in some room somewhere in Stratford-upon-Avon, but they made sure that they rolled centuries along with them.

About four-and-a-half centuries later, traces of Macbeth are still seen in every other political leader, and every average lover hanging outside their beloved’s balcony is still called a Romeo. While every modern man’s mindscape is still fraught with Hamlet’s existential angst, some Desdemona somewhere is still falling prey to the suspicions of her Othello. While betrayed friendships still ask ‘Et tu, Brute’, some Portia somewhere still decapitate some Shylock’s devious intentions. William Shakespeare lives on in his works, in the timeless characters that he had engendered. William Shakespeare is not susceptible to the dents of time; he is synonymous with it. 448 years are nothing in this incessant flow of time. It is just another drop in the unfathomable ocean called William Shakespeare.