With reference to Romeo and Juliet, why is the study of Shakespeare as relevant for today's society as it has ever been before?
William Shakespeare is widely regarded to be one of the best authors of English literature in history. His works have been translated into numerous languages and his plays are still being performed on stages today. The study of Shakespeare's work is relevant in today's society not only for its influence on modern language, theatre, and literature, but also because his plays contained themes which still ring true today.
Shakespeare is credited with introducing more than 1,700 words to the English language, many of which are creative uses of previously established verbs or nouns. In doing so, he is perhaps the most influential single individual when it comes to English vocabulary. In addition, the body of work he created has influenced countless later plays, films, and novels. Famous musicals like West Side Story and films like The Lion King are adaptations of Shakespeare's plays. To study Shakespeare is to study the direction and development of the English language from the 16th century onward, and one can hardly study Modern English Literature without implicitly learning Shakespeare's influence.
With particular reference to Romeo and Juliet, most people in the English-speaking world are required to read this play during their schooling or will encounter a theatre production of it within their lifetime. References to Romeo and Juliet are so prolific in English-speaking culture that one can grasp a thorough understanding of the themes and plot without ever actually reading or watching the play.
The second feature of Shakespeare's work which I feel makes him just as relevant today as he has ever been is that his plays directly address the human condition. His plays feature people in situations we can still relate to, even five centuries removed from their writing. Romeo and Juliet is a great example of this timeless truth because it deals with themes of family honor, parent-child conflict, and young love. Even though we may not personally be from a noble Italian family and see our cousins stabbed by rivals, we can relate to the emotions of tension which run throughout the play. I think this play is especially powerful for young people who are experiencing romantic love for the first time because it does feel incredibly overwhelming and can drive people to drastic measures.