The Importance of Shakespeare to Poetry

Short Lecture

English 240

June 16, 2004

William Shakespeare is one of the most influential and well-known poets of all time and his works are essential to the understanding and knowledge of all poetry. His poems have shaped, influenced, and motivated countless poets and their poems throughout the centuries. The works of Shakespeare are often referenced and have directly inspired not only many poems, but also many other works of literature. Shakespeare’s poems must continue to be read, analyzed, taught, and enjoyed because his works form the foundation for poetry in the English language.

Shakespeare is perhaps the most read English poet, and for good reason; his sonnets are masterfully structured, with beautifully descriptive language and pleasing rhymes and rhythms, and his plays continue to be performed and studied around the world and converted to movies. Shakespeare’s work has permeated a vast majority of literature and has been a popular subject for scholarly and literary essays. His works are invaluable to the world of poetry because of their far-reaching effect and universal appeal. Although his language is more challenging to read, he writes about topics, ideas, and emotions most individuals can still relate to today.

Shakespeare’s use of an earlier form of the English language is a common complaint and often used as an excuse to read only the familiar poems and plays. While the language can pose certain reading difficulties, most editions of his works contain translations and clarifications and the benefits of understanding his poetry are numerous. The older English imparts a traditional, historic tone to his poems and plays, and, once the reader grows accustomed to the differences, is very enjoyable to read. Shakespeare’s language, while a more archaic form of modern English, nevertheless incorporates complex layers of meaning, which complements the old style of English.

A major reason Shakespeare remains a prevalent poet is his ingenious utilization of humor, tragedy, love, and satire, all flavored generously with wit and sarcasm. His plays possess witty dialogue spoken by multifaceted characters and his sonnets are cleverly worded to encompass a multitude of emotions and thoughts. Shakespeare’s originality and creativity endear him to readers today just as in centuries past. Many amusing sayings and witty phrases originated with Shakespeare; through these and along with his works themselves, he has been immortalized in the world of poetry.

Shakespeare’s work captivated me at a young age, even before I was able to understand much of it, because every individual can find meaning and can take pleasure in his work. The influence of Shakespeare’s work must not be limited to a few plays and sonnets read in high school, nor should it be confined to scholarly analysis in the intellectual university community. His poetry should be widely read because it not only expands the reader’s knowledge of Shakespeare himself, but it can also broaden the reader’s horizons in poetry, open the door to other great poets of Shakespeare’s time, such as Milton, Spenser, and Donne, and initiate a desire to delve deeper into all poetry.