No playwright—indeed no writer of any kind—has ever captured the depth and range and mystery of human experience with the acute insight and dazzling language of Shakespeare. Indeed, so fully and dynamically does Shakespeare render human behavior on stage that scholars still endlessly debate the meaning of his plays, finding within them a seemingly bottomless well of philosophical, political, and psychological insight.
– David McCandless, Director, Shakespeare Studies Program, Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University
Ben Jonson famously characterized Shakespeare as “not of an age, but for all time.” The truth of this sentiment is everywhere evident: Shakespeare is, by a colossal margin, the most widely-produced playwright in the world. New festivals devoted to his work spring up regularly, his plays are recurrently adapted into popular films, and the dispersal of his words and images into digital media increases by the week. It is no exaggeration to say that Shakespeare has never been more popular than he is now, and for a rather simple reason. It is no wonder that Jan Kott, way back in the 60’s called Shakespeare “our contemporary.” One might say that the history of Shakespearean performance and criticism is a history of reconfiguring the plays according to the consciousness of the times. Thus Henry V may become an anti-war play, The Merchant of Venice an exposé of racial intolerance, and The Tempest a critique of colonialism—meanings unlikely to have occurred to Shakespeare‘s original audience. Perhaps we should amend Jonson’s famous dictum to say that Shakespeare was not of an age, but for any and all ages. He was and is every era’s contemporary.