I'm writing a paper and the prompt is "why read Shakespeare in 2015?" the part that I'm having trouble with is describing the world of Lear with focus on its transcendental and ahistorical...

I'm writing a paper and the prompt is "why read Shakespeare in 2015?" the part that I'm having trouble with is describing the world of Lear with focus on its transcendental and ahistorical characteristics. I asked my professor about it and she said that she doesn't have expectations of it, she just wants what I see in King Lear. Still, I'm having trouble coming up with anything transcendental about Shakespeare and more specifically King Lear. I began my paper talking about the lessons that can be taken from King Lear and how they speak to the human experience, but wouldn't they have spoke to the human experience in the same way back in 1609? I guess I'm just a little stuck on how to go about this.

Expert Answers
iambic5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's fascinating: even after 400 years people still read Shakespeare, people still watch Shakespeare, people still need to see and hear these stories over and over again, even though they know how they're going to turn out. Shakespeare is still relevant because the plays tackle issues that human beings have still not worked out. The essential experiences of being human in 2016 are painfully close to the human experiences of the 1600s. We have not come as far emotionally and psychologically as we have technologically. We have new gadgets like cell phones but the fundamentals of being human and having human emotions – love, despair, loss, joy, sadness – are exactly the same, feel exactly the same, as they did to Shakespeare and because there are no easy solutions to the most difficult human experiences the plays never go out of date. The most transcendental thing about Shakespeare is that his plays speak to the human experience now as relevantly as they did back in 1609.

Let's look at “King Lear”, and specifically the scene right at the opening of the play: the game that Lear sets up at the beginning of the play has to do ostensibly with the division of his kingdom. Lear decides to settle the division through a contest to see which of his three daughters loves him the most. The game is not a fight over territory but a competition over the love of a parent. Now, we don't generally divide up kingdoms up anymore, but we do often compete for the love and affection of our parents; some parents still do pit siblings against each other for affection and attention. Perhaps we’ve seen it, perhaps sadly it’s happened to us. It’s an experience that people still relate to. There’s a fight for love at the center of “King Lear”, and although we no longer live in the sort of feudal society the play takes place in, the conflict can still feel painfully close to home. That kind of recognition of modern experience in a centuries-old play is a big reason why we still read Shakespeare in the modern day.