Confession 64: To Shakespeare or Not To Shakespeare?

Before reading further, I need to warn you that I am about to commit English heresy. If you’re a traditionalist when it comes to the English canon you should probably stop reading now. I’ve been thinking recently, as we approach our Shakespeare unit in English IV, that I don’t want to read an entire Shakespearean play with my Seniors. (WHAT!?) You heard me right. I’m considering reading one or two scenes and then just watching a film. (So this is what’s wrong with the American educational system these days!!) There is much sound reasoning behind this thought. Let me break it down.

1. The language barrier: American English is so far removed from Shakespearean English that it is truly like reading in another language for the students. I don’t know if we’re evolving or devolving, but the kids just do not get the language. Therefore, they can’t move on to comprehension of the text.

2. The relevance issue: Any student of English literature knows that the plot lines and characters in Shakespearean plays can transcend any time or generation. But, the kids don’t get that. They think, “Oh, another old, dead white guy. Who cares?” My students want to read about characters who are like them and situations they are going through now. They want new and contemporary. And they don’t want people speaking in rhymes!

3. The skills issue: The point of teaching English is to help students analyze, evaluate, problem-solve, reason, and write effectively. Do they really have to read Shakespeare in order to do those things? There are plenty of contemporary pieces of writing they can read, comprehend, enjoy and use to build these skills. Knowing Shakespeare is not going to make a phenomenal difference in their lives.

I know what you’re thinking, “It’s Shakespeare! They have to know Shakespeare! He’s everywhere!” While it’s true that there are many Shakespearean references and allusions built into contemporary media and artistic endeavors, the question is whether or not our kids need to understand those references and allusions to appreciate the media or artwork. Is it necessary to the growth of their persons? And, as much as I personally love Shakespeare, I would say (begrudgingly) no.

Here’s the other plus for me. If we only read an excerpt from a play, we can cover more than one. We can hit Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. They’re getting more than they would from a unit in which they would read an entire play. And, I don’t have to hear them whine and complain.

To Shakespeare, or not to Shakespeare? That is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Senior whining , or to take arms against the sea of rebellion, and by watching film, end them?

It is a question for the ages:-) Let me know what you think!

Blessings and Peace,