Shakespeare: Celebrating 400 years of wit and wisdom

On Feb. 2, the FIU Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum opened its doors to William Shakespeare’s First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit featuring a first edition of Shakespeare’s works. David Prodger, British Consul-General in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, wrote the following op-ed on how Shakespeare’s words resonate more clearly than ever to today’s ears.

David Prodger, British Consul-General in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

David Prodger, British Consul-General in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

‘Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.’ Good advice from Friar Lawrence to Romeo 400 years ago, good advice for diplomats nowadays. Like so many of Shakespeare’s great works, the words that were written in another time resonate more clearly than ever to today’s ears. His ability not just to tell a good story, but in doing so to dissect the human spirit, exposing through his characters our own strengths, weaknesses, hubris and doubts, is why he stands alone in the literary canon.

Through his 38 plays, he explores the full range of human vice, virtue, folly and farce. His works depict our most basic human traits: love, betrayal, jealousy, justice, corruption, addiction, forgiveness, sacrifice, courage, nobility and redemption in a way that is simple to understand and powerful to interpret. He used a populist eye to interpret complex moral and social issues to the man on the street, and in doing so tackled some of today’s most urgent issues, such as international use of force and targeted killings; credit crises; the poverty trap; and, of course, gang conflict.

He speaks to the refugee crisis, for example, writing “imagine that you see the wretched strangers, their babies at their backs and their poor luggage, plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation…” In doing so, he also tackled deeper issues as controversial in his day as they are now.

Through his comedies he celebrated the benefits of diversity and how this unifies rather than divides society. Women play central roles, outwitting their male counterparts and often (though not always) unravelling the tangled webs. He touches on same-sex relations, religious intolerance, disability, ethnicity and ageism, often treating each theme with a subversive humor, challenging the convention of the day and still posing questions of us 400 years later. His power as a story teller is matched only by his ability as a communicator and educator.

So there is little wonder that Shakespeare remains a global phenomenon. His work has been translated into more than 100 languages and is studied by half of the world’s schoolchildren. His 3,000 new words and countless phrases have lent richness not just to the English vocabulary, but to global vernacular irrespective of the language you speak or culture you come from – who hasn’t celebrated a ‘band of brothers’, or acted ‘more in sorrow than in anger’, suffered from ‘green eyed jealousy’ or ‘refused to budge an inch’.

That is why through 2016 the world will be celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare’s legacy as one of the greatest playwrights of all time, and why the U.K. invites everyone to join in through the recently launched “Shakespeare Lives” initiative. This program will run in more than 70 countries, led by the British Council, and will allow everyone to watch performances, share favorite moments, engage in discussion, get to grips with the English language, and even act and upload quotations from his plays to recreate in the virtual space all 118,000 lines of his works. It will also include a global campaign (#PlayYourPart) to combat child illiteracy.

Here in Florida, we are delighted that the book that gave us Shakespeare, the First Folio printed in 1623, will be on exhibition for a month at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at FIU in Miami. A full program of public events will take place around the exhibit and will also include the final event of this year’s BritWeek, which celebrates the strength and diversity of the UK-Florida relationship.

So please join in, play your part, and in doing so celebrate not only the genius of a man, but the enduring legacy of his works which continue to challenge us to build the better, more inclusive societies in which we want to live today.

-David Prodger |