When the most prolific poets throughout time come to mind, you probably think of icons like Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman—and William Shakespeare, of course! Many consider the Stratford-upon-Avon actor, playwright, and poet to be the greatest writer in the English language. But have you ever wondered if The Bard would like today’s poetry? Shakespeare himself wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” When we’re not thinking about literary journals and agents, at Writer’s Relief we sometimes ponder: Would Shakespeare like today’s poetry? Here’s what we think:
Shakespeare’s (Likely) Thoughts On Today’s Poetry
Shakespeare supported other writers. Shakespeare was a prominent supporter of his contemporaries in the Elizabethan/Jacobean-era writing community. Notably, Shakespeare was close to fellow poet and playwright Ben Jonson—and was even godfather to Jonson’s son! Shakespeare also supported many up-and-coming writers as well, like Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, whom he edited for and collaborated with. So he would probably continue to support contemporary poets and poetry much like he did in his own day and age.
Shakespeare’s topics withstand the tests of time. Most scholars agree that, while Shakespeare’s writing is over 400 years old, the topics within his works are timeless. Shakespeare wrote about a number of universal, deeply relevant topics, including love, death, ambition, and fate. These topics are still at the forefront of the majority of modern poems. The Bard would surely recognize, appreciate, and enjoy modern interpretations of the themes and topics he also wrote about.
Shakespeare could relate to recent events. In the same way current poets spent the majority of 2020 hunkered down at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shakespeare, too, spent time in quarantine during the bubonic plague. He focused on writing poetry during his own lockdown because the local theatres were closed for six months, briefly turning his attention away from plays. Shakespeare would certainly find contemporary poetry about pandemic life completely relatable.
Shakespeare enjoyed innovative language. In addition to being a great writer, Shakespeare is also a renowned inventor of words. More than 1,700 words were first recorded in Shakespeare’s works. As a lover and innovator of words, Shakespeare would be enamored with all of the new words and phrases that have emerged with the turn of the century. (We can picture him texting “2B or not 2B…whether ’tis nobler to flex…”)
Shakespeare’s sonnet style is still appreciated today. One of the most recognizable forms of poetry is the sonnet—created and popularized by none other than William Shakespeare himself. The Elizabethan (or Shakespearean) sonnet is “a fixed poetic form, consisting of 14 lines, usually iambic pentameter in English.” Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets throughout his career, all of which are incredibly still popular and studied today, particularly Sonnet 18:
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”
The catchy, rhythmic stylings of the sonnet allow generation after generation of poets to use this poetic form with modern interpretations. Not only would Shakespeare be familiar with the form of present-day sonnets, but he’d probably be flattered!
Current trends for most literary journals lean away from rhyming poetry and more toward free verse. But we believe Shakespeare would have been flexible and creative enough to embrace this “newfangled” poetic style!
If you’re ever questioning your poetic skills, consider that it’s entirely possible literary legend and known friend of the arts William Shakespeare might enjoy your writing—we think he would definitely like modern poetry! As Shakespeare once wrote, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” With Shakespeare’s support (in spirit), submit your poetry to literary journals!
And if you want to boost your odds of getting published, let the researchers at Writer’s Relief help by pinpointing the best journals for your poetry. Our strategies work: Over 90% of our poetry and short story clients have been published! Learn more and submit your writing sample to our Review Board today.
Question: Which current poem do you think Shakespeare would enjoy?