Tag Archives: hamlet

The Relevance of Shakespeare

On Monday evening, I met a friend for a drink in a pub. At some point in our conversation my friend questioned the relevance of Shakespeare to school children. In essence his argument was that it was more important for children to learn to read and write than it was for young people to grapple with the Bard.

I disagreed on the grounds that an appreciation of beauty (much of Shakespear’s language is beautiful) is essential to the good/civilised society. I also contended that society would be the poorer where we to simply concentrate on reading, writing and maths. We should encourage children to look up at the stars rather than merely on cramming them full of facts Mr Gradgrind style.

The discussion with my friend caused me to Google the issue of the teaching of Shakespeare, and whilst doing so I came across this article, https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-why-im-rethinking-teaching-shakespeare-in-my-english-classroom/2019/10.

Goering is reputed to have said that when he heard the word culture he reached for his revolver. On reading the above piece I reached for my metaphorical revolver in despair at those who argue that children should be exposed only to “relevant”/”modern” authors to whom they can relate. Whilst the author of the above piece does acknowledge that Shakespeare should continue to be taught, she says that this should be in order to help students to relate his work to modern society/contemporary issues. I have no problem with children finding something in Hamlet (in the character of Ophelia) that teaches/makes them think about the role of women. However the beauty of the language is what resonates with me.

Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech is a wonderful piece of poetry, as is Macbeth’s “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace till the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle …”. I am quoting from memory so apologies for the undoubted errors. However the fact that I (and many others) can quote large parts of Shakespeare shows his relevance to us all.

I rest my case.

I Am Overly Introspective

“I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all. Believe none of us”.
(“Hamlet”, Act 3, Scene 1).

False Memory

“If there be such a thing
As false memory,
Why then does recollection sting
As a demented wasp?

The physical pain
May go, but the buzz
Does remain,
Again and again.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum
But who are the lunatics and who are the sane?
And why in the brain
Does the imaginary sting

The plays the thing
Wherein we’ll catch the conscience of the king”.
“But Claudius is long since dead
And Hamlet is mad”,
The doctor said.


Waking to the alarm
He thinks on the charm
Of woman (not here).
Yet the imagined ideal
Does, I fear
So often obscure the real.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Girls ponder on jewels
While fools Misconstrue
What is true.
Hamlet will gather Rue
Ere the day is through.

In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” it is, of course Ophelia (not Hamlet) who gathers rue.

OMG Shakespeare!

OMG Shakespeare takes the original plays and retells them using text speak, emoticons and slang. I can’t see how one could translate the beautiful and moving “to be or not to be” speech in Hamlet and translate it into modern language or (worse) into slang or text speech. For the article please see, (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3121419/Yolo-Juliet-Macbeth-s-killingit-Academics-horrified-dumbing-Shakespeare-Bard-s-greatest-works-retold-EMOJI.html).


From the darkness we came and to the darkness we shall return.


The above words came to me when I woke up today, on a gloomy UK morning. Looking them up on the web there are variations on the quote but not the precise wording given above.


We come from the dark womb then, sooner or later we enter, as Hamlet so eloquently puts it “The undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns”. Am I in a dark mood? Not particularly. The quote popped into my head this morning and seemed appropriate to share it.

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so

Are certain pleasures in life intrinsically more valuable than others? Is the person who derives pleasure from watching Coronation Street (a British soap opera) but finds nothing which speaks to him in Shakespeare correct when he voices his opinion that soaps possess greater value for him than the Bard’s work due to Coronation Street arousing feelings of enjoyment not aroused by Shakespeare?

Yesterday evening, on the way home from the office I popped into my favourite pub for a pint or two. While there I fell into conversation with an acquaintance. Our discussion ranged far and wide. At one point during our conversation my acquaintance voiced the opinion that a child’s drawing may possess more value than works of art hanging in art galleries and on the walls of rich collectors. Let us leave aside whether the child in question is a budding artist with great talent and assume instead that his picture is a mere scrawl or a mediocre drawing. In such an instance the picture may (and often is) greatly treasured by the child’s parents as being a product of their son or daughter’s artistic efforts. Those unacquainted with the girl or boy in question may not give his creation a second glance but to the loving parents it possesses sentimental importance (they may keep the drawing for years taking it out of a drawer to look at from time to time).

The love of a parent for their children is a precious and beautiful thing, however we can not allow a parents biased view of their child’s talents to determine what constitutes great art. We would not, for example permit the parents of one child to judge the creations of children unrelated to them if the competition included pictures produced by the judge’s own children! The judge might be able to put aside his natural desire to favour his child but even so we would, quite rightly determine that it was inappropriate for him to sit in judgement in a competition featuring pictures produced by his offspring.

Let us broaden the debate and return to the person who obtains greater pleasure from watching soap operas than he derives from Shakespeare. We may disagree with the lover of soap operas and contend (as I do) that Shakespeare is more valuable in that his works portray humanity in all it’s rich diversity, however we can not argue against the fact that for the given individual Coronation Street possesses more value than the works of the bard. However while accepting that the lover of soap operas holds the subjective opinion that Coronation Street is more valuable than Shakespeare we can, by standing back and taking the broader perspective vigorously defend the concept of great art and literature.

Shakespeare’s plays have remained popular since they where first performed in Elizabethan times. The issues addressed by Shakespeare remain as relevant today as when the plays where first written. For example take Macbeth’s musings on ambition

“I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself,
And falls on th’other.”

Many a despot has been driven and continues to be propelled by “vaulting ambition”. Wonderful writing which can not be compared to the happenings in Coranation Street. Again Hamlet’s “To be or not to be, that is the question” soliloquy is arguably one of the greatest meditations on the subject of suicide ever written:

To be, or not “to be, that is the question:

Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer

The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,

Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep

No more; and by a sleep, to say we end

The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks

That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,

To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes Calamity of so long life:

For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,

The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,

The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,

The insolence of Office, and the Spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his Quietus make

With a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn

No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have,

Than fly to others that we know not of.

Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,

And thus the Native hue of Resolution

Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,

And enterprises of great pitch and moment,

With this regard their Currents turn awry,

And lose the name of Action.”

Doubtless in future centuries historians will study soap operas to understand popular culture and some will continue to find such soaps entertaining, however it will be Shakespeare and Dickens who retain their positions centre stage not soap operas or mindless “reality” shows in which the boyfriend of a girl who has slept with his (the boy’s father) shouts insults at his partner for the entertainment of the studio audience and the viewer. We no longer have the spectacle of hapless victims being thrown to the lions. It has been replaced by ill educated people who want their paltry 5 minutes of fame strutting and threating their hour upon the stage and, once over to be heard from no more. This is entertainment of a sort but it is not great art or literature, perish the thought.