The most generalized comment on why ‘Shakespeare’s plays are so popular even after so many years’ is that the plays of this mastermind are enriched with something that appeals to the audiences from time to time and place to place. That is, one of the common aspects of Shakespeare’s play is that his plays are universal. But the question is whether this statement is self-evident or not. Since art is mostly accepted either as the imitation of reality or as the construct of artist’s mind, the universality of art as well as of reality needs to be defined. Shakespeare’s plays are universal in the sense that they reflect reality. This reality is not the objective reality. Rather it is a kind of inner reality that dwell within the being of a man and that shapes the objective reality itself. In apparently simplistic language, but with rich metaphors and imagery, most of the Shakespeare’s plays lay bare the existence of that very existential being before the audiences. Indeed Shakespeare was a modern artist ahead of modernism, because though “Existentialism officially emerged in the middle of the 20th century many authors expressed familiar ideas much earlier. Shakespeare’s Hamlet posts some existentialist questions and expresses existentialist ideas” (Essay-911).
Johnson’s Evaluation of Shakespeare’s Popularity
Along with this exposure of a modern man’s naked inner self, his artistic bent to present the most complicated and the most clandestine truth through the simplest and the most appealing poetic language wins the heart of modern people with the least effort, as in this regard Johnson says, “Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life” (3). His art of characterizations also takes him to the core of human heart. His characters are not confined within the norms and rituals of a particular society; rather they are shaped by the common dynamics of human nature that exists in all the societies. Shakespeare’s portrayal of the characters is “not modified by the customs of particular places, unpracticed by the rest of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or professions” (5).
Modern existentialist scholars tend to mark the universality of the characters -of Shakespeare’s plays- as the portrayal of human’s very existential self. Such appraisal of Shakespeare’s art of characterization appears to be partial, not complete. But Johnson marks Shakespeare’s characters as the portrayal of humanity as he says, “they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find” (6). Shakespeare’s characters are not for any specific culture; rather they are the general delineation of some universal theme. Again referring the naturalness of his characters, Dr. Samuel Johnson says, “His persons act and speak by the influence of those general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole system of life is continued in motion. In the writings of other poets a character is too often an individual; in those of Shakespeare it is commonly a species.” (6).
Shakespeare’s Presentation of the Whole Truth of Human Life
Presenting the whole truth about a theme is another appealing feature of Shakespeare’s plays. While dealing with a theme he does not overlook any possible side of it, as Johnson says, “Upon every other stage the universal agent is love, by whose power all good and evil is distributed, and every action quickened or retarded. Traditional approach to love is centered on its decency, elegance and divinity, as if love is all. In contrast, Shakespeare did not forget to uphold the flaw, folly, blindness and also its complicated relationship with other social institution like family, because, for him, love is not everything of human life; rather it is a merely a part and one of many passion of human life. Referring to this aspect, Johnson says, “love is only one of many passions, and as it has no great influence upon the sum of life, it has little operation in the dramas of a poet, who caught his ideas from the living world, and exhibited only what he saw before him.” (4)