Part of the reason that Shakespeare’s work remains popular today is that it generally uses themes that are timeless such as unrequited love (ROMEO AND JULIET), personal tragedy (HAMLET), greed and betrayal (MACBETH) or even melancholy humor (TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA). Because the themes are timeless and the characters quite memorable, Shakespeare has been able to remain popular while contemporaries of his such as Christopher Marlowe have passed on into relative obscurity.
Of course, while the themes and characters may be timeless, it becomes difficult to capture a new audience when the language is hundreds of years old. Because of this, novel spins such as the modernized gangster film JOE MACBETH and the Leonardo DiCaprio version of ROMEO AND JULIET have been utilized to some success. As long as the themes remain relevant to the modern world, the themes can be “recycled” or reinvented to capture a new audience.
The natural world in Shakespeare’s plays are overblown in certain plays while somewhat understated in others. In the play A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, the natural world is presented in a more pronounced manner that plays that dealt with tragic figures:
Obviously, the Green World in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the “greenest” of all of Shakespeare’s Green Worlds, for it is indeed the forest of fairy magic, and this fairy magic is directly related to the phenomena of love. Love, Shakespeare seems to be saying, is a magical transformation that can be explained only by the saying that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” All of the falling in and out of love that takes place in the Green World is facilitated by Oberon’s love potion that blinds the characters to the outward appearances of their beloveds. How else could one explain the incongruity of the beautiful fairy queen’s infatuation with Bottom who, of course, has been transformed into an ass? Or Lysander’s sudden love for Helena?
A great deal of the irony of the play derives from the fact that while Cordelia appears to be the instigator of the loss of Lear’s throne, it is actually she who is the one who seeks to restore Lear. Lear’s other daughters, Goneril and Regan, ultimately prove that their loyalties lie with the material aspects of the throne and their true natures surface when they start to squabble amongst themselves over the affections of Edmund.
All of this provides a scenario that is more damaging to Lear’s self-preservation than he initially perceived. In other words, he never should have directed his venom towards Cordelia, but did so because of his perpetual blindness towards what actually is vs. what he perceives reality to be. In reality, the threats lie with the “good” daughters such as Goneril, as evidenced in the following dialogue where it is clear she shares little regard for the value of Lear’s life.
By day and night he wrongs me; every hour
He flashes into one gross crime or other,
That sets us all at odds: I’ll not endure it:
His knights grow riotous, and himself upbraids us
From this, one can see the character is one of the more complex female characters in all of Shakespeare’s work.
As noted throughout the essay, Shakespeare’s work remains as relevant today as it was many, many centuries ago. A large reason for the timelessness of his body of work results from the fact that the themes present are equally timeless and appeal to a huge cross culture of individuals.
Green World. (DB) University of Florida. Retrieved 10 February 2007.
Lurman, Baz. ROMEO AND JULIET. Warner Bros Motion Picture: 1996.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. New York: Washington Square Press, 2004.