One thing which I think rather gets lost when people study Shakespeare, is that at the time he was working, he wasn’t expecting his writings to be subjected to kind of analysis which we know today.
At the time, Shaky was a travelling player, along with Burbage and the other members of his troupe, writing plays which he hoped would appeal. Now, sometimes this means that there are bits which don’t sit very comfortably with us, 400 years down the line – the portrayal of Shylock, or the bit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Francis Flute goes on about Bottom earning tuppence a day – but this is inevitable if you bear in mind how the plays were written and performed.
He was a populist, trying to ensure his work was enjoyed by as many people as possible. He had no – could not possibly have had any – idea that he’d later be feted as the greatest playwright of all time, and so (unlike modern-day writers) didn’t deliberately load his works with symbolism and leitmotifs in the hope that it would be scrutinised by his audience, as the majority of his plays were written to be performed (which is why learning about Shaky by reading his plays in a classroom is missing the point).
And to my mind, this is what makes his work all the more remarkable – when he used the image of gardens, and a poor gardener, in Richard II, he wasn’t doing it in the hope that the analogy with Richard’s bad kingship would be studied by me in a classroom in the 1980s, he was doing it because it served the plot, and it seemed to fit, and said what he wanted to say.
Which is, of course, what creativity, art and expression ultimately boils down to – finding a way to express what you want to express, in a way which you hope other people will relate to. Those artists who create works which are predominantly designed to be picked apart with academic rigour may well enjoy some success within the confines of the world of academia and critical analysis (and I’m particularly thinking of modern art as an example of this), but I think it unlikely that they’ll enjoy the same broad appeal, in as many variations, as the work of Shakespeare has over so many centuries.