How Did Shakespeare Influence Modern Society?

William Shakespeare’s legacy has been far-reaching within modern society, his work having paved for the way for greater sexual openness and racial equality as well as influencing the fields of psychology, sociology and politics. For example, a common narrative device employed by Shakespeare in his plays was the soliloquy, which involved characters speaking aloud their inner thoughts and feelings. This was long in advance of, and perhaps influential for, psychoanalytic therapists and theorists such as Sigmund Freud.

Shakespeare’s strong and well-known characters have also given modern society a kind of shorthand for understanding various personality types. A person who dithers, for instance, can be understood as comparable to Hamlet; a woman who displays a fierce or determined ambition is often conceived of as an analogue to Lady Macbeth.

In terms of promoting civil rights, Shakespeare has been cited as an inspiration by the prominent African-American activist, Paul Robeson, with specific reference to “Othello.” The tragic hero of this play is both strong and African, as well as being involved in a loving and generally accepted interracial relationship.

Shakespeare’s work was also ahead of its time by virtue of its open-mindedness towards sex. Examples include “Sonnet 137,” which is about masturbation, and “The Winter’s Tale,” which contains a reference to a sex toy.