Shakespeare and his relevance today

Head of English, Stephen Dessants, presents his views on why Shakespeare remains an essential part of the English curriculum.

It was phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl, who said “all consciousness is consciousness of something”. He might as well have spoken about Shakespeare’s creativity and the reason he is still relevant.

Creativity is inexpressive in isolation. It needs ‘something’ and the greatest something in history from my perspective is William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was part prophecy and part word painting where the divine and the human engage in that which forms a story.

It may involve a character reflecting universal forms or someone rare and remarkable; regardless the plot and persons are applicable to all ages and publics. His accounts encompass the spin of imagination: real, virtual, and fantastic. He speaks to us in today’s whispers of yesterday’s conversations.

Shakespeare was the essence of fancy, not oriented by the linearity of any clock but rather by its composition, the being in a human being. His sketches of characters were not only drawn but pitched to some bigger design.

Like a treasure hunter, Shakespeare sought the private troves of the collective unconscious for the buried relics of our nature. He was a master potter of linguistic vessels. And yet, he cherished the uniqueness of our silent and singular worlds.

In his creative walks, he found a cosmological leather for a different kind of boot. Shakespeare, in Melbourne Grammar terms, explored beyond the gates to topographical points in the mapping of future places.

In considering ‘relevance’, one must ask about the work having a direct bearing on our lives, being still treasured, valued, and understood by young people.

When studying Shakespeare, students are able to ask Hamlet about life and death when he is in the graveyard, chat with Romeo about falling in love with Juliet in the banquet scene, and engage with Feste from Twelfth Night (the ‘fool’ and ‘corrupter of words’) over the nature of reality in Illyria. Surely the splendour of language, the universality of plot, and the understanding of human nature resonates with students in the 21st century.

Stephen Dessants Head of English


This exploration was previously published in Grammar News No. 122, April 2017.

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