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The Bard’s grip over our lives appears to be weakening. An analysis of the interest in William Shakespeare on Google Trends shows that Bardolatory has been waning over the last 10 years. From its height in March 2004 when it scaled its peak search volume (taken at 100), it dipped to a 10-year low of 30 in December last year.

A month away from his 450th birth anniversary, it is worth introspecting whether Shakespeare does indeed have any relevance for our times. At one level, every effort is on to recycle the Bard’s work. In a piece for Insead Knowledge titled Executive Lessons from Prince Hal, Nigel Roberts writes: “Increasing numbers of companies are using the plays of Shakespeare as templates for change. The dilemmas of ancient Kings and Princes provide a fresh perspective on the challenges facing CEOs in the 21st century. "

But is this forced fit a reflection of reality? In this era of the 140-character conversation, blog posts and status updates are redefining our verbal idiom, making it more urgent and personal. The long form itself is atavistic. With shorter attention spans and the obsession with the ‘me’ and ‘mine’, it’s every man (woman and child) for his (her) own novel.

For all the efforts to relate Hamlet’s dilemma with the lives of everyman, the fact is the ordinary folk who visited the Globe theatre, enjoyed the plays for what they saw on stage and not what the underlying message was or what they stood for. In fact, Shakespeare borrowed his stories from Ovid, Plutarch and Holinshed and set them in ancient Greece and Rome. It was history enacted on stage. But the context was contemporary.

Context is everything. Today, the villainy of Iago pales before the bestiality of the neighbourhood rapist. However malevolent the usurer Shylock might have been, we have our very own bankers of the City and the Street to demonize. Yes, the language of Shakespeare is part of our collective vocabulary but its meaning is far removed from the original. Romeo today is almost a pejorative term, used more often for the roadside stalker. In this age of instant mobility, the amorous suitor pining for his love has a new avatar—the Facebook friend. Digital life forms have different concerns and have spawned a differing lexicon in the age of the post-modern “twisted". Or depending on your snobbishness quotient, lowbrow.

Which is why, Shakespeare-as-life is replaced by Shakespeare-as-spoof. There are today Twitter adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays such as Taming of the Shrew (dubbed Twitter of the Shrew). No less than the Royal Shakespeare Company co-produced some years ago Such Tweet Sorrow, a drama in real time and 4,000 tweets, somewhat based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And there’s Amy Helmes and Kim Askew, authors of Twisted Lit, summarizing Macbeth for the Twitter age “Whipped by wife, Scottish dude starts killing spree after getting too stoked about psychic reading by 3 witches."

Yet all these adaptations can’t change the fact that the Shakespearean oeuvre is dead. We may quote his lines in conversations, post them as our status updates, but it is all just bricolage.

Hamlet is literature, not scripture. Shakespeare’s greatness will endure but not his relevance.

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