On April 23rd, 1616, it is believed that William Shakespeare passed away. While we don’t have records of his death, we do have records of his funeral which occurred two days later on April 25th, 1616.
At the age of 52, Shakespeare left behind a body of work that has captivated pop culture and has been the favored subject of academia (think of your high school literature classes) for the past 400 years. Shakespeare’s works have lead to an unparalleled phenomenon across cultures and well past his time.
This blog has continually looked for Shakespeare from searching for Shakespeare in bookstores in Taipei, Taiwan to visiting a bookstore with his namesake in Berkeley, California. Speaking of books, we’ve reviewed the Star Wars Shakespeare-style books, have shared our own stories about Shakespeare, and have made so many freaking posts about Shakespeare loot it’s kinda ridiculous.
Lauren Sumabat and I geeked out over plays like Richard III and shared it here for the world to see. I’ve also shared my research project that created three lesson plans for teachers in the Common Core system to use in an 8th through 12th grade classroom. We’ve done instructional posts on how to read Shakespeare for the first time, explored Juliet’s question on the meaning of names, and have tackled current events like the revelation of a new Shakespeare play. I could go on and on and on about this blog’s coverage of all things Shakespeare because his works play such an important role in the literary world he and they, of course, play an important role in our blog about literature, creative writing, and education.
On April 23rd, 2016, 400 years after the beloved playwright, sonneteer, and poet passed away, his work is still alive and out there for you to see. All around the world, Shakespeare’s life is being celebrated on the anniversary of his death in countries like Mexico, Canada, England (of course), and Japan.
Where I live, in Los Angeles, California, there’s plenty to do to celebrating the passing of this great influence on western canon:
- The Shakespeare Center will be presenting of Hamlet
- The Pasadena Playhouse will be presenting Twelfth Night
- The Old Globe will be presenting Macbeth
- The New American Theatre/Odyssey Theatre Ensemble will be presenting Tempest Redux
- The Musco Center for the Arts will be presenting The Merchant of Venice
- The Los Angeles Drama Club will be presenting both The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest
- The Long Beach Shakespeare Company will be presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a radio play
- The Colonials: An American Shakespeare Company will be presenting As You Like It
- The City Garage Theatre will be presenting Part III: Othello
A Noise Within will be presenting Romeo & Juliet
I, personally, will be seeing Othello performed by the Independent Shakespeare Company later this month.
Will his works stay prevalent in society for the next 400 years? I’d like to think so. I study Early Modern Literature and what lead to that field was my engagement with Shakespeare as a young girl. I found his works interesting and challenging and I continued to read and re-approach his plays in junior high, high school, and then in college. Once I chose a field to focus in on, there was no question of what I would hone in on. Shakespeare pioneered the concept of an inner and outer self, something we take for granted in modern society.
Before the Renaissance period (which we now call the Early Modern period), people were their station in life and were expected to live up to the expectations of their social roles. With great villains like Iago and Edmund, Shakespeare challenged rigid class and social lines. In an era overripe with Petrarchan love cliches, Shakespeare challenged the objectification of women and developed women with substance like Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Viola of Twelfth Night as well as challenged the standards of beauty and the concept of love in the later half of his 154 sonnet series.
Literature gives us a gateway into the past because it is a link to the era it was written in and Shakespeare’s time was a time when politics and poets clashed, when social thought started to shift, when the new world was still a colony of the great British Empire, when England was a superpower, when women were considered inferior while one sat upon a throne and ruled the country (Queen Elizabeth I), and when a more modern notion of the world started to take shape.
There are many reasons why we study and celebrate Shakespeare’s works and, for me, this can all be broken down into one simplistic rationale: we study and celebrate Shakespeare’s works because they remind us of what it is to be human. Shakespeare has created characters and stories that resonate with both the good and bad parts of what it is to be mankind. It is the connection to our humanity that we link to when we study and celebrate the life, death, and works of this great author, William Shakespeare.