Why Is Shakespeare Still So Widely Studied?

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William Shakespeare (1564–1616) continues to be regarded as the greatest playwright who ever lived. Most teachers, students, critics, and theatergoers throughout the ages have agreed that Shakespeare is, in the words of his colleague Ben Jonson (1572–1637), "not of an age, but for all time." His extensive volume of work expresses universal and unchanging human concerns as no other works have before or since. These comprise no fewer than thirty-seven plays, divided into comedies, tragedies, and histories, as well as numerous poems and sonnets. Since his death, Shakespeare's plays have been performed continuously around the world, even in non-English speaking countries; he is the most-quoted author in the world.

Shakespeare's work remains an ongoing source of fascination, imitation, and critique. Many scholars have sought to explain the secrets of his genius. His plays are so complex and original that some have criticized him for not taking a definite moral stance, for combining tragedy and comedy, and for other literary techniques that broke away from traditional classical form. Confused by the range of his writing styles and his limited education, some scholars and historians have engaged in heavy debate over who Shakespeare actually was. Some suggest that his posthumous works (published after death) may have been created by another writer using the name Shakespeare in order to conceal his own identity.

Further Information: Martin, M. R., and R. C. Harrier. The Concise Encyclopedic Guide to Shakespeare. New York: Horizon Press, 1972; Shakespeare Apart. [Online] Available http://www.mwsc.edu/-eng368/summer97/public/7.29.97-22.43.36.html, October 23, 2000; Wells, Stanley. Current Approaches to Shakespeare: Language, Text, Theater, and Ideology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988; William Shakespeare. [Online] Available http://sailor.gutenberg.org/etext97/lws0210.txt, October 23, 2000; William Shakespeare. [Online] Available http://www.field-of-themes.com/shakespeare/indexmain.html, October 23, 2000; William Shakespeare. [Online] Available http://members.tripod.com/shakespeareweb/, October 23, 2000.