Probably the most consistent criticism I hear about Shakespeare from people I talk to, especially kids, is that the language is impossible to understand. To an extent I agree – if you only read the text it often seems to make little sense – and certainly the analogies and references prove hard work. But the astonishing thing is that, spoken aloud, some kind of transformation occurs, and things start to fall into place.
Now of course, not everything does, particularly in the history plays, which require a larger field of reference. One thing that always amazes me is the seemingly shambolic changes of tone Shakespeare goes for – but in this he’s duplicating life itself, which rollercoasts from one state to the next – and this is something teenagers particularly experience. And his language does exactly the same thing, which is what makes it so truthful.
A very good, very easy book on the subject is ‘Shakespeare On Toast’ by Ben Crystal, which explains how Iambic Pentameter makes the language simpler to follow. Here’s the trailer for the National’s current ‘Hamlet’, which perfectly illustrates the point.