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Erica Galindo
Celebrating Food, Faith and Family
Last edited on: July 17, 2016.

All around the world, Shakespeare continues to enrich and entertain audiences of all ages and cultural backgrounds. One of the most delightful experiences with Shakespeare, is to enjoy Shakespearean performances with family and friends in an outdoor park. July 12, WCSH reported out of Portland, Maine, on Fenix Theatre’s free production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Deering Oaks Park.

With this year marking 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, his work is especially being celebrated around the globe. The BBC and the British Council continue to provide “Shakespeare Lives.” This is an international online Shakespeare festival through September 30, which enables audiences in the UK and around the world to experience an amazing breadth of work that showcases the creative range of the Bard’s artistry and its all art forms. Illustrious partners in this extravaganza include: Shakespeare’s Globe, the British Film Institute, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Hay Festivals and the Royal Opera House along with the BBC and the British Council.

All over the globe and throughout the year, Shakespearean events are taking place in many forms for all ages: special activities, fairs, staged productions, film festivals and much more. Today Shakespeare’s writing is in public domain, according to modern copyright laws, because he lived over 70 years ago. (However, contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare are under copyright, if their authors are still alive.) Beyond the fact that Shakespeare’s writing is “up for grabs,” why does Shakespeare continue to engage audiences around the world? What is it about Shakespeare ‘s work that continues to enlighten, educate, and enrich? Why is his work timeless, universal, and classic? Why is he still acknowledged as the greatest of all playwrights? Why is his work still the most extensively read? Why is he the most studied author in the English language? Finally, what can we learn today from Shakespeare and the period in which he lived?

First, Shakespeare was a master of nuanced, clever, thought-provoking use of the English language. He skillfully used literary devices to appeal to the ears, minds, and souls of listeners. He figuratively and metaphorically played on words (tropes). He entertained with wit and the humorous use of language that featured different possible meanings of  words and used words that sound alike but have different meanings (puns). He wrote with the rhythms of the human heart in unrhymed blank verse in iambic pentameter. He largely wrote for the stage and this is why Shakespeare’s writing must be heard to be fully enjoyed.

Shakespeare developed universal characters and themes that continue to inspire and instruct. Shakespeare’s characters often struggled with complex, layered, moral dilemmas. His tragic characters have a tragic flaw that could be a good quality within appropriate boundaries, but in excess leads to tragic consequences. Thus Shakespeare’s tragic heroes such as Macbeth, Hamlet, Lear or Othello, have strengths and weaknesses, which ironically are often strengths taken to excess. Shakespeare had amazing, timeless, universal insight into the complexities of human motivation and personalities. Further, Shakespeare wrote for all people and all levels of society.

William Shakespeare was a product of the artistic Renaissance and spiritual Reformation of his day. In his lifetime, Queen Elizabeth allowed both great movements to co-exist in the UK. His time was rich with artistry and content. Shakespeare wrote with great breadth and depth, as he dealt with great philosophical issues, universal themes, and complexities of his characters, as he was influenced by great Greek playwrights who were of fascination in the Renaissance. He wrote of great moral and philosophical complexities in the midst of the Reformation. He wrote for actors of his day who could present his characters with intense human emotion and skillful, eloquent diction and delivery for live audiences.

Shakespeare’s plays were performed on the “wrong side of the Thames” because of Queen Elizabeth’s appeasement of the Puritans in this period. However, because of this all strata of society were entertained, engaged and enriched with Shakespearean plays. Eventually, the Puritans would close down the theaters, “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” However, after their brief rule under Oliver Cromwell and the restoration of the “merry monarch” Charles I, the king sanctioned plays and performances for elite aristocrats that were written by “gentleman” playwrights. These plays were largely contests of provocative wit with salacious references to irreverent, immoral escapades with their mistresses. Unfortunately, the Puritans in their overreactions had created a vacuum that was later filled with worse content than what they had swept out. Again, a tragic flaw played itself out when the desire for morality became extreme destroying great art rather than balancing great art with morality.

Shakespeare’s tragedies, like the tragedy genre in general, warned of the destructiveness of human overreactions (in “King Lear” the king desires the devotion of his daughters, but is blind and hurtful to the one who loves him most). As in tragic Greek plays and characters, the tragic flaws in Shakespeare’s characters were an excess of what could be a good thing (ambition in excess became murder in “Macbeth”). In the work of William Shakespeare, the great artistry of the Renaissance worked together with the great universal moral and spiritual ideas of the Reformation. Shakespeare brought to great heights of expressions some of the best of both the Renaissance and Reformation artistry and ideas. His work continues to set a high bar for dramatic artistic expression. This is seen most keenly in British dramatic writing and performing but Shakespeare’s high bar of artistry and depth of thought has also influenced great art and depth of thinking for the whole world.

George Santayana said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” We are better off if we reflect on lessons from history and strive not to repeat hard-learned historic lessons. We can gain wise insights, if we ponder on the overreactions of the Puritans, who despite their desire for good morals and spiritual insight, created a dangerous vacuum in their overreactions. We can also gain wisdom from observing how during the Restoration that leaders in their great leisure entertained themselves with salacious, corrupt, promiscuity as well as demonstrated social insensitivity, lack of concern, and dearth of responsibility that led to the social revolutions of the next period.

In the present darkness of our modern world, we are experiencing the worst of times and the best of times. We are seeing the destructiveness of extreme action and reactions. May we by God’s grace enjoy a better balance of honoring all lives with great art and depth of thought that lifts our souls and hearts together in heavenly balance and unity.  May this year of celebrating Shakespeare enable us all to celebrate a Renaissance of artistry and Reformation of content that continues to bring great heights of artistic expression and great depth of thoughts, ideas, and ideals to the public square.


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