Shakespeare Popular for 400 Years

Why is Shakespeare so Popular?

Shakespeare is undoubtedly the world’s most influential poet and dramatist, leading Ben Jonson to note that, "He was not of an age, but for all time!" Four centuries later, Jonson’s words still ring true. Students and people new to Shakespeare often ask “why has Shakespeare stood the test of time?” – In an attempt to answer this question, I’ve listed the top five reasons for Shakespeare’s success.

Why is Shakespeare so Popular?

01
of 05

Jean-Louis Trintignant
French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant holding the skull of Yorik during a scene from the Shakespeare play 'Hamlet', Paris, circa 1959. Keystone / Getty Images

Without doubt, Hamlet is one of the greatest dramatic characters ever created and is possibly the crowning achievement of Shakespeare’s career. Shakespeare’s skilfull and psychologically-astute characterization is utterly remarkable because it was written hundreds of years before the concept of psychology was invented.

02
of 05

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare. Illustration by Hugh Thomson, 1910. Illustration to beginning of Act 3, which introduced the phrase “”A laughing stock” to the English language. Culture Club / Getty Images

Modern English has been heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s writing, highlighting his continued cultural impact four centuries after his death. Today, we still use hundreds of words and phrases coined by him in our everyday conversation.

03
of 05

Shakespeare's Sonnets
Shakespeare’s collection of 154 love sonnets is possibly the most beautiful written in the English language. William Shakespeare [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare’s collection of 154 love sonnets is possibly the most beautiful written in the English language. Although not necessarily Shakespeare’s best sonnet, Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? is certainly his most famous. The sonnet’s endurance comes from Shakespeare’s ability to capture the essence of love so cleanly and succinctly.

04
of 05

Something Wicked
English actor John Henderson (1747 - 1785) as Macbeth, in consultation with the three witches in Act IV, Scene I of Shakespeare's play 'Macbeth', circa 1780. An engraving by Gebbie & Husson Co. Ltd, from 'The Stage and Its Stars Past and Present', 1887. Kean Collection / Getty Images

Every moment of Shakespeare’s play drip in poetry. Evidently, he understood the power of language – its ability to paint landscapes, create atmospheres and create compelling characters. Shakespeare wrote for his fellow actors and his dialogue, therefore, translates into performance with ease. Forget criticism and textual analysis because everything an actor needs to understand and perform Shakespeare is right there in the dialogue.

05
of 05

Claire Danes And Leonardo DiCaprio In 'Romeo + Juliet'
Claire Danes is surprised as Leonardo DiCaprio takes her hand to kiss in scene from the film 'Romeo + Juliet', 1996. 20th Century Fox / Getty Images

Shakespeare is best known for writing the greatest love story of all time: Romeo and Juliet. Thanks to Shakespeare, the name Romeo will forever be associated with young lovers and the play has become an enduring symbol of romanticism in popular culture. This tragedy has entertained across the generations, spawned endless stage versions and film adaptations including Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film classic.