Should Shakespeare be Kept in Schools?

Written by Leah Jane

One of my loves, besides Benedict Cumberbatch, is Shakespeare. His plays (Shakespeare’s, of course, not Benedict Cumberbatch’s) still resonate with all sorts of people: theatre lovers, literature connoisseurs and even some musicians. However, I have recently read in an article published by tes, stating that Shakespeare’s plays need to be kept out of schools. Personally, I disagree. But putting my personal feelings aside, I will do my best to give a balanced argument.

 

They Say: Over Analyzing can Kill the Dream

The point of departure for those who agree that Shakespeare should get expelled from school is that most people react badly to Shakespeare. Whenever I mention Shakespeare (as one so often does) their first reaction is, “Oh god, I did Shakespeare in school and I hated it!” or I get the teeth-sucking sound like I’m about to be told my car is knackered. To an extent I understand: we did Macbeth at school and if we read Lady Macbeth’s speech about her little red spot once, we read it a million times. Taking every word and analyzing its meaning does take the joy out of it. It becomes monotonous, boring, and dull; more of a hindrance than a joy to learn.

But in no way does this mean that Shakespeare needs to be taken out of schools. All that needs to happen is for Shakespeare to be taught in a way that doesn’t suck. A more passionate teacher, or a more interactive lesson would solve this issue, instead of sticking with the, ‘So what does the double meaning of “grave man” here in Mercutio’s speech represent?’ rubbish.

For example, what if we taught our children that Macbeth had a mental illness, and that’s why he was hallucinating? Or what if we showed kids that Shakespeare had hints of homosexual characters in his plays? Or zombies? Food for thought, that’s all.

 

We Say: He Created the Basics

I’m not saying that he made The Story. People have been telling stories since there were cave walls to write on. But Shakespeare needs to be looked at because his plays are the basis for most of the stories you read today.  A friend told me once ‘If Shakespeare hasn’t done it, it doesn’t exist.’ I wont insult your intelligence by banging on about themes and conventions but the basis of what my friend said is true: love, family, and jealousy, to name a few, are all themes which Shakespeare mastered.

It is the cornerstone on which modern literature is built. Without a strong foundation, the knowledge children obtain will crumble and fall to pieces. In a world where the written word is becoming less and less important, we cannot afford for this to happen. This is why Shakespeare is necessary for schools.

 

We Say: Just a Bit at a Time

I’m not saying we need an entire module on The Bard. Start simple. Working in a school, I can comment that children are very susceptible to new ideas. Subtly introducing works like this can be a blessing. Last year, I wrote and directed a child-friendly version of Hamlet. It was just total bliss to see the children learn the names of the characters and understanding the story without being spoon-fed.  This has the potential to be the new way to teach children Shakespeare.

Teachers were accused of being too scared to take risks. Fie upon thee! Take thy face hence! This is so untrue it's laughable. What you may hear a teacher say is, 'How in the hell can I make this enjoyable without me having to spend hours getting things set up?' It's not bravery teachers lack, it's time and willpower.

Additionally, there are so many modern adaptations of Shakespeare plays that they have formed part of every child’s life without them even realizing it. Films such as Ten things I hate about You follows the plot of Taming of the shrew. The Lion King is loosely based on Hamlet, Baz Lerman even made that highly divisive film Romeo + Juliet.  This is all without mentioning the plethora of adaptations of Shakespeare’s work for modern film. Shakespeare is going to be part of our lives at some point or another, so why not when we’re children?

 

We All Say: Show Me, Don’t Tell Me

These plays were written to be seen and not read. These wonderful words are great if you know what you’re talking about but you never can really understand the plot until you see it. The delivery of the lines from the actors adds another dimension.

They are plays after all, and so we should act them out. Even in schools, in the classroom. Instead of just reading it from behind a desk, get little Susie to act as Desdemona who dies so tragically at the hands of Othello, played by the talented Drake who is 14. There is no reason why children shouldn’t be energized to do these things. It’s a far better lesson than just reading the damn things.

 

We All Say: Done, Let's go home.

There are many different opinions to this topic and this is but a brief candle into the undying debate. However I do feel that there needs to be a balance. It is a new era of teaching where children want to know the merit behind what they are learning. So let’s give it to them. Even if that merit is simply seeming intelligent at parties, while swirling your glass of Merlot because you’ve read King Lear by William Shakespeare and understood it.