Applause for the Post's Alexandra Petri, who, on this 448th celebration of the (speculative) date of Shakespeare's birth, pens an exquisite tribute to the Bard.
She nicely captures his enduring literary supremacy in this passage:
[His] are not plays we read and see together as a generation or a country. They’re works we enjoy as a species. Shakespeare offers a roadmap to the human.
Indeed, as Yale's inimitable Harold Bloom has argued--in the way of a personal and tireless campaign to revive good taste in all things literary--Shakespeare invented the human personality.
Steven Greenblatt, in Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, provides a fascinating and quite relevant contrast. To wit, after Machiavelli's Florentine defrocking, writes Greenblatt, this strategic genius would
put off the clothes sullied by the banalities of the daylight hours. Dressed in a rich gown, he would take down from his shelves his beloved authors--Cicero, Livy, Tacitus--and feel that at last he had companions fit for his intellect. Nothing could be further from Shakespeare's sensibility. He never showed signs of boredom at the small talk, trivial pursuits, and foolish games of ordinary people.
Still, in his dynastic plays (which happen to be my favorites), Shakespeare could analyze the wisdom or wickedness of high executive power with the best of the world's Machiavellis, be they ancient, contemporaneous, or future.
My only recommendation is this: If out of fear you've never read William Shakespeare, just dive in (OK, one more recommendation: I'd start with Richard III, for it is, as they say, a real hoot). And in no time at all, you'll be reading Will like you'd wear an old shoe.