Despite being a widely celebrated writer, it appears that Shakespeare’s harshest critics are not of the literary kind, but rather his newest students—modern-day teenagers.

From the 16th to the 17th Century, Shakespeare wrote around 38 plays, and is credited with inventing around 1,700 words, making an undoubtedly large contribution to literature and language. However, hundreds of years later, his portrayals of places such as Macbeth’s Scotland and Othello’s Venice appear worlds away. In a time where the Divine Right of Kings and cuckoldry are no longer a concern, their themes and ideas can be seen as irrelevant, confusing, or strange. As such, deep analysis of his works may be telling of elements of his time, though subject to his motives, but contribute little to the thinking of modern readers. For many, his plays are boring, tedious, and have nothing to offer this century.

Despite being celebrated, his work is not without flaws, and perhaps the most unforgiving of his critics are teenagers who deem his plays “basic,” derivative, or take other issue with his writing. Some students have expressed the opinion that literature should be up to date with current issues and that, “People should be able to study it if they want, but with the limited amount of reading done in schools I think there is better literature to be read. Also, his plays are often discriminatory which I don’t think should be taught.”

Similarly, some respondents highlighted how the question of Shakespeare’s relevance doesn’t necessarily relate to teaching in schools, one explaining that “Yes, they are still relevant, but no they shouldn’t be part of the GCSE curriculum due to the inaccessibility of the archaic language creating barriers for students with less cultural capital.” They suggested that the cultural influence of his writing is important but may be more of an A level topic considering how difficult it can be for students to understand, particularly in large classes where many students will have little interest in literature.

However, it would be wrong to assume that they only have complaints, or that any debate is useless, as arguments on both sides evidenced a degree of critical thinking as a result of Shakespeare’s work.

“I think it shows the continuity of human error and the human inclination to self-destruct and how, even despite the 500-year gap, there’s still relevance to the mistakes made by his characters, and consequently lessons to be learnt from them, not that people always heed those lessons. I also just really like Shakespeare because he made his craziest ideas become wildly successful, such as Bottom in a Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“Shakespeare managed to write works that were not only relevant to all social classes at the time but have continued to be relevant since. Many of the issues people have regarding Shakespeare being boring or stuffy stem from the philosophy of teaching his plays as literature rather than, you know, plays. Understanding some of the Doylist reasoning behind his choices not only answers questions students inevitably come up with but makes the fact that he worked around all these obstacles seem even more impressive.”

“It helps teach young people critical thinking and the ability to interpret different scenarios/situations from a range of perspectives, giving us the skills needed to understand people better. It’s also an important marker of how far we’ve come since Shakespeare in terms of both literature itself and the society it inevitably reflects. I think all literature serves a purpose and to disregard any is a mistake.”

“He’s one of the greatest playwrights and authors to ever live.”

“Especially Romeo and Juliet has had a major impact on our society which is kind of disappearing. Even though you should not cling to the past, I personally prefer it over an alternate that has replaced it in our syllabus.”

“His writing is genius, and you can learn a lot about effective language use and history through his works. Additionally, his stories often have profound messages which are still relevant today and can be used as metaphors for certain situations.”

Ultimately, opinions are divided, but the subject prompts good arguments on both sides.