William Shakespeare Questions and Answers

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Discuss Shakespeare's greatness as a playwright.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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write4,539 answers

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Shakespeare has a way of capturing the best and worst of who we are, and he does so in language which is poetic and compelling and enduring.  His words have become part of the fabric of our language, so reading him somehow resonates in an extraordinary way with me. 

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coachingcorner eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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yes, one thing I love about William Shakespeare is that whatever I'm watching, listening to or reading - there is poetry in it. In every speech, sonnet and every piece of dialog there is beauty of imagery and of sound. Any of his works is a joy for a poet.

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marbar57 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Never having developed an appreciation for Shakespeare or his writings, I still have to confess he sure could write!  He had a way with words that no one else did.  He must have been a great playwright if people are still performing his works hundreds of years later!

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booksnmore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Excellent posts, all! A couple things come to mind (outside of his skill with words, etc.) and that is the fact that the plays have withstood the test of time and that the content is, in many ways, timeless. I relate to the antics of the comedies and the pain of the tragedies like I'm experiencing a contemporary event. When the plays are put in "modern" costume/settings, it's sometimes hard to remember that the text was written hundreds of years ago.

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missy575 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shakespeare is difficult to master, any student who has ever tried will tell you that, and that's part of what makes him so cool in my mind.

Shakespeare is intellectually challenging because the language is from another time, but a word study will prove to you that he had the pulse of the people mastered, he got human nature. Shakespeare also made his words necessary to be interpreted. Many times, he had his actors say one thing on stage that you could take two ways. One famous example of this is when Juliet (from Romeo and Juliet) is speaking with her mom of how she hates Romeo and would like to be a part of poisoning him. We as the audience know she wants to weaken any poison given to Romeo while Lady Capulet thinks Juliet wants to make it strong.

Shakespeare is also good at toying with every human experience... EVERY human experience. He knew how to keep an audience invloved, every member of the audience. His works combine the voices of like Saturday Night Live, Grey's Anatomy, Survivor, and the most passionate love stories you can think of. This has earned him timeless fame. Most writers can't do ALL of that.

 

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are numerous points one could raise in detailing Shakespeare's greatness as a playwright.  I'll make a few points. 

He added words to the lexicon of the English language like no one else has ever done.  Words like amazement, bedroom, bump, critic, exposure, lonely, pious, and useless were probably all first written down by Shakespeare.  Not to mention phrases that have become so common they're now cliches:  "Too much of a good thing," and "Come full circle," come to mind.

He is a product of his time, as all writers are, but he transcended what any of his contemporaries accomplished.  Others were writing revenge tragedies in his day, as many writers had done before him.  But he reaches a sophistication and complexity that is unmatched.  His word play, his use of motifs, his themes, his characterization are all superior to what anyone else was doing at the time.  Shakespeare takes a common plot (Hamlet's revenge) and turns it into a complex masterpiece, for instance.

His vocabulary, his phrasing, and his transcendence make Shakespeare a great playwright.  I'll leave the rest for other editors.

 

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coachingcorner eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The reasons for Shakespeare's excellence are many and various - and very fascinating. For a start, for such an accomplished writer, he had a surprisingly un-aristocratic background. He was the son of a glove manufacturer - just a tradesman. he was, however, lucky enough to be sent a little grammar school. His writings show great awareness of the classics and traditional stories - yet he did not go to university, but worked in his dad's business. Amazing then, that by 1592 he was already known in London as both an actor and playwright. His greatness perhaps came out of an ability to learn quickly and to adapt that knowledge to what he knew audiences wanted - for example he took many of his early plays from England's history.

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brettd eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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To me William Shakespeare is synonymous with greatness for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was his ability to take ordinary situations and make them intensely comical and/or interesting, and to do so in a way that relied almost completely on well-arranged dialogue to do so.

But he wasn't just a gifted comedian.  He also was able to very deftly take on serious subjects, especially power and intrigue, which, at the time, would have been fantastically interesting to the average British reader or audience.

Also, Shakespeare was incredibly prolific, turning out play after play over the course of his career, leaving us with a rich and varied body of work to appreciate.

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austin-roberts | Student

While one could argue "greatness" is impossible to define, I believe William Shakespeare was great in many ways. History remembers Shakespeare for the great plays he wrote, but research sheds light on Shakespeare as a great businessman and theatre practitioner. Though Hamlet and Falstaff were fictional characters, William Shakespeare was a real person, and if nothing else, what's truly "great" is that we still talk about him today.

The art of the theatre has changed tremendously since Shakespeare's day. Nowadays, professional theatres produce plays written by new and old playwrights alike and pay royalties for each performance (surely you've heard of popular musicals like Hamilton, Les Miserables, or Little Shop of Horrors). These productions have fully-fledged rehearsal processes and actors are often hired on a production-by-production basis. This is all very different from Shakespeare's experience.

Before modern copyright laws, plays weren't licensed like they are now; instead, acting troupes would have a playwright on hand to constantly write new material. Just like today's movie theatres, there was a constant race to create something new and exciting to drive in audiences and their money. Acting troupes would keep a repertoire of plays, often with little-to-no time to rehearse them. This means that Shakespeare's plays, though they have withstood the test of time, were probably written hastily between performances. Despite this, they are full of poetry, lifelike characters, and deep themes. It must have been tempting to "phone it in," but Shakespeare wrote great pieces against all odds.

Shakespeare also understood how to keep financial security during difficult times. Much like today, it was hard to get by as a poet, and Shakespeare surely suffered the same as today's "starving artists." He was saved from starvation, no doubt, by the help of his patrons, including the 3rd Earl of Southampton. Much like patreon or similar services today, patrons in Shakespeare's time would finance Shakespeare's work for certain benefits, like having poetry dedicated to them. One could say Shakespeare had a great business sense.

In short, history remembers Shakespeare as a great writer, but being a playwright is about more than writing remarkable stories and characters--a man's got to eat, after all! In conclusion, to me, Shakespeare was great because he wrote stories with tremendous financial success - like Titus Andronicus - or with tremendous literary significance - like Hamlet, Othello, and MacBeth - all while staying abreast of market trends and tight deadlines. The ability to juggle art and business, above all else, is what made Shakespeare truly great.

shewa55 | Student

the greatness of Shakespeare is in his ability,philosophy ,intelligence and style.His mind is like a big river of words which flows continuously and the are coated in a style which can be called perfect.

nusratfarah | Student

Another thing came to my mind just now. It is notable that, In many Shakespearean plays, women have been presented as the leading characters. At that age, women were not supposed to be taken as so strong creatures as Shakespeare dared to present them, rather were shown feeble and vulnerable creation.

He has shown his exception dealing brilliantly with the case of gender.

nusratfarah | Student

William Shakespeare is like the sky to me, has different colors, variations, sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny, sometimes dropping rain on the dry earth. What is not there in Shakespeare? Shakespeare's maximum characters have become symbols, and their dialogues are often used as proverbs. He is an umbrella term for a specific genre in literature. He's not oly confined within a particular age, gender, time or nation. He is for the entire world. The whole world is grateful to him because of his some unique, innovative style which are now working as milestones for other poets and playwrights.

What he brought with a new format, for example, pun, tragicomedy, frequent use of soliloquies, death and funeral on stage in his tragedies like those written by Seneca, brilliant use of clowns or fools- these are still ideals for the playwrights all over the world. All his plays are extremely superb more or less, and all the characters are legends at a time. His plays, either you watch or read, make you feel that you have not read or watched something, rather devoured   it.

epollock | Student

The achievement of Shakespeare, which in many ways, defies ordinary categories. His use of language was unparallelled.  Each of Shakespeare’s many characters speak in individual accents and rhythms. Shakespeare seems to have understood each of his characters well enough to know what it would be like to see the world through their eyes; every speech is not just in character, but a revelation of character. John Keats, a Romantic poet, said that Shakespeare had negative capability: the ability to empty out one’s own ego enough to be able to become a character in a play. Shakespeare’s range of characters is extraordinary: from the pidgin English of Caliban to the philosophical language of Hamlet—and everything in between—there is a virtually complete cross-section of people in his world throughout his plays.

Doctors, sailors, statesmen, soldiers, lawyers, and many others have written books showing that Shakespeare must have been one of them, because he always gets the language of every profession right. Shakespeare could do this in part because of his amazing vocabulary and his delight in language. When he could not find the right word, he invented or redefined one. He also made hundreds of expressions proverbial, so that most of us quote Shakespeare several times a day, even if we do not recognize the source of the expression. Words had a lot to do on the Elizabethan stage, which had no scenery or artificial lighting, so that words had to set the scene and the atmosphere. An audience in Elizabethan England went to hear a play, not to see one (the root of the word "audience" is to hear).

Shakespeare also had a metaphoric habit of mind, which means that his plays are full of amazing, brilliant, and illuminating comparisons.  Shakespeare’s personal reticence—a part of his negative capability—is responsible for the objective point of view taken by his plays. After 400 years of intense scrutiny, we still know almost nothing about Shakespeare’s personal life and beliefs. In his plays, points of view are expressed by individual characters, but in the context of the entire play, individual points of view tend to be balanced by those of other characters. As You Like It is a wonderful debate about the values of the pastoral , without the playwright endorsing any single one of them. This is one of the characteristics of his plays that have made them nearly universal, since they are so open-ended that each age and individual is free to interpret them. 

In the history of English drama has ever had this magnificent combination of language and the ability to see life as a whole. Shakespeare deserves his place as the best poet and dramatist in our language.