Is Shakespeare really too hard for modern readers to understand?

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare - Credit: Getty Images/Hemera

He is widely acclaimed to have been the world's best ever playwright who penned some of the most beautifully-crafted verses in English literary history.

Poet Colin Phillips started what is now, the longest running Shakespeare reading group in the world.

Poet Colin Phillips started what is now, the longest running Shakespeare reading group in the world. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Yet according to the organiser of a Norfolk reading group which has been celebrating his work for the past 35 years, people are not reading Shakespeare today because they find it too complex.

Colin Phillips, (pictured below), and a group of about 10 fellow Bard enthusiasts set up what they claim is the world's oldest Shakespeare reading group, in Kenninghall, near Attleborough. But while the odd student has come along to join in reading the verse, Mr Phillips said few have stayed the course – because they have left once landing jobs or university places.

'I think people find it too difficult,' said Mr Phillips, who lives in Old Buckenham.

'It is very complex language. His early plays are simpler, but the later plays are much more poetic and therefore full of similes and metaphors, whereas his earlier plays are not.

'He is the greatest playwright in history, yet we do not seem to know what to do with him.'

Celebrations took place across the country this week to mark the Bard's 450th birthday.

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Mr Phillips believes more people should appreciate the playwright's work because it offers a timeless insight into people and their lives.

He also said books and new technology meant people today could potentially have a greater understanding of Shakespearean language than original audiences in the Globe Theatre hundreds of years ago, because having the scripts written down means they have time to analyse his words.

'It is better to read Shakespeare than to watch it,' Mr Phillips explained.

'When you're reading it you can go back on the line and analyse what he's actually saying. One of the problems when you're watching it is that by the time you've worked it out, you've lost the next three lines.

'We're fortunate that we've got books because, in Shakespeare's time, people didn't have books. Shakespeare understands the human race. When other people look in the mirror they only see their face, but Shakespeare saw the world. He's timeless and his plays can be shown throughout the ages.' However, Barrie Palmer, director of the GB Theatre Company, which has brought the Shakespeare Festival to Norwich, said performances were key to helping people understand Shakespearean text.

He believes the Bard's plays are not complicated – provided they are presented in an interesting and entertaining way. 'It's like anything – a picture is worth a thousand words,' he said. 'By seeing something live and having it explained, it's there and you can understand it.'

Do you think we appreciate the work of Shakespeare? Write, giving full contact details, to: EDP Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE, or email

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