Why Shakespeare Matters: Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear in the 21st Century

Joseph Luzzi – Bard College

Introduction to Why Shakespeare Matters

Why are the works of William Shakespeare still considered “essential” reading today, some four hundred years after they appeared? How can the lessons of his theatrical universe help us understand the major social and political conflicts we face in modern times? Together we will explore the factors that continue to make Shakespeare so vital a force in popular culture, as we focus on his stunning contributions to the English language, his unparalleled grasp of human psychology, and his use of literary form to astonish and enchant. We will center our conversation about “Shakespeare today” on three of his greatest and best-known works: the magnificent tragedies HamletMacbeth, and King Lear.

Discussion Questions About Why Shakespeare Matters:

  1. What are the qualities of Shakespeare’s language that make it such an ongoing source of pleasure and enchantment for modern readers?
  1. What qualities do the different “tragic” protagonists that we will cover – Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear – have in common? How would you define Shakespearean “tragedy?”
  1. What socio-political challenge or problem from today do you think Shakespeare’s work can best help us with, and why?
  1. What do Shakespeare’s plays reveal about the cultural practices of his own times, and some of the major differences between his world and our own?

Learn More About Why Shakespeare Matters

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