What can Shakespeare teach us about social media?

Copy from the Classics
Social Media & Shakepeare
Social Media & Shakepeare

Shall I compare thee to a Facebook page?

In honour of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, here is the first in our ‘Copy from the Classics’ series of posts, in which we’ll explore some key areas of digital marketing in terms of literary greatness. Head with us ‘once more into the tweets, dear friends’, as we see what Shakespeare can teach us about Social Media.

On form

Twitter is quick, crisp and tricky for the first-time tweeter. In a world where most of us have left the constraints of the single text message far behind, Twitter requires you to get your point across in fewer than 140 characters (this sentence is already far longer than one tweet).

So why has it become so popular? A glance at Twitter’s own guide to surviving the shortform shock offers the wisdom that “constraint inspires creativity”. Shakespeare was a master of creativity in a controlled environment – his poetry focused on the complex and constrained form of the sonnet.

Make it your own

Created in Sicily in the thirteenth century, the sonnet is completely inflexible. It must have fourteen lines of ten syllables – no fewer, no more – or it becomes the less impressive and bulkier ‘blank verse’. Developed for the regular rhythms and rhymes of Italian, it is a different and difficult beast in English.

Shakespeare immortalised the sonnet because he created his own pattern of rhymes that helped it to sound more coherent to the English ear. He picked this difficult form so that it would force him to improve his writing. He penned over a hundred and fifty sonnets during his lifetime – even the scene in Romeo and Juliet where the lovers meet is written as a sonnet.

A sense of style

Wrestling with language in a form requiring a regular pattern of exactly 140 syllables is what kept Shakespeare at the top of his game for the last four centuries. From Twitter, to Vine, to Instagram, it’s easy to see how Social Media follows in his wake. Fixing a format demands that users innovate in the way they create content.

It might be too much to link Shakespeare’s 140 syllables to Twitter’s 140 characters, but hundreds of years later, the principle is exactly the same. The challenge of keeping content within concise boundaries forces us to be creative in our communication.

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