400 years of Shakespearemania

By Audrey SomnardLex Kleren Switch to French for original article

It's been four centuries since William Shakespeare became a legend, thanks in part to the printing of a collection of his works, that allowed them to remain as relevant and successful as ever, even in the modern age.

To be or not to be? That is the question. The English playwright's work has become so universal that even those most unaware of literature and theater know the plot of Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet. In the UK, schoolchildren suffer for hours over these works, which are an essential part of the school curriculum. But how did we reach such a pinnacle of popularity? For plays written over 400 years ago, how have they stood the test of time and become so popular? A mystery partly unraveled this year with the 400th anniversary of the publication of the first folio of Shakespeare's works in 1623. Prof. Dr. Lena Steveker, assistant professor in English Studies at the University of Luxembourg, tells us how this collection changed the game and enabled the plays to go through 400 years of history.

"By the time of his death in early 1616, Shakespeare's plays had already fallen out of fashion. He had returned to his native Stratford upon Avon, and had stopped writing plays for London theaters a few years earlier. Some of his former colleagues, with whom he co-owned a theater company, decided to publish this first folio. This was a very risky undertaking, as the high-quality paper was very expensive and had to be imported. Publishing this book therefore represented a considerable economic investment. Researchers don't really know whether the public, the publishers, wanted to take advantage of Shakespeare's fading popularity, or whether they published the book to create popularity. So it may be both."

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