400-year-old lessons from the Bard
Call me old fashioned but I’ve quite enjoyed all the furore this past month celebrating Shakespeare – or at least celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio of his works.
Over the course of November, there have been numerous special exhibitions, podcasts, TV series and column inches devoted to the anniversary.
In the buzzy business of the modern AI-fuelled corporate world, a ‘folio’ might not seem very relevant. But it’s a fascinating piece of literary history, and if it hadn’t been produced, we might well have lost a huge chunk of Shakespeare’s work. And that would have left a massive hole not just in English literature, but in English language, and English cultural identity.
So why is it relevant today for comms people?
One of the first things that springs to mind is the language, and how, 400 years on, Shakespearean-isms still find their way into not just scholarly language, but everyday conversations.
How many times have you found yourself saying or writing any of the following recently?
Brave new world (The Tempest)
Good riddance (Troilus and Cressida)
It's Greek to me (Julius Caesar)
Wild goose chase (Romeo and Juliet)
Too much of a good thing (As You Like It)
Cruel to be kind (Hamlet)
I've not slept a wink (Cymbeline)
Eaten me out of house and home (Henry IV Part 2)
A foregone conclusion (Othello)
A tower of strength (Richard III)
Break the ice (Taming of the Shrew)
The world is my oyster (Merry Wives of Windsor)
I could go on.
But that’s not all. Beyond the common everyday sayings, there’s something at the heart of Shakespeare’s plays and poems that have meant they have stayed relevant for more than four centuries.
I think it’s their simplicity.
When he wrote those plays and poems, they didn’t just stand on their own. He lived, just as we do today, in volatile times – of societal division, plague, religious persecution, political games, changes in monarchy. In a different context, we can probably relate to similar types of volatility today.
He wrote in response to those challenges – about human relationships, about death, about family, about class, about feelings, about leadership, about responsibility. And he did so to entertain, to persuade, to win favour, to make a point.
As modern communicators, we are likely to write about the same sort of things today and for similar reasons.
Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in today’s fast-paced world and we can tend to overcomplicate things. But at its simplest, the human condition doesn’t change – and reflecting on this Shakespearean anniversary this past month has served as a good reminder of that.