The Relevance of Shakespeare

On Monday evening, I met a friend for a drink in a pub. At some point in our conversation my friend questioned the relevance of Shakespeare to school children. In essence his argument was that it was more important for children to learn to read and write than it was for young people to grapple with the Bard.

I disagreed on the grounds that an appreciation of beauty (much of Shakespear’s language is beautiful) is essential to the good/civilised society. I also contended that society would be the poorer where we to simply concentrate on reading, writing and maths. We should encourage children to look up at the stars rather than merely on cramming them full of facts Mr Gradgrind style.

The discussion with my friend caused me to Google the issue of the teaching of Shakespeare, and whilst doing so I came across this article, https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-why-im-rethinking-teaching-shakespeare-in-my-english-classroom/2019/10.

Goering is reputed to have said that when he heard the word culture he reached for his revolver. On reading the above piece I reached for my metaphorical revolver in despair at those who argue that children should be exposed only to “relevant”/”modern” authors to whom they can relate. Whilst the author of the above piece does acknowledge that Shakespeare should continue to be taught, she says that this should be in order to help students to relate his work to modern society/contemporary issues. I have no problem with children finding something in Hamlet (in the character of Ophelia) that teaches/makes them think about the role of women. However the beauty of the language is what resonates with me.

Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech is a wonderful piece of poetry, as is Macbeth’s “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace till the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle …”. I am quoting from memory so apologies for the undoubted errors. However the fact that I (and many others) can quote large parts of Shakespeare shows his relevance to us all.

I rest my case.

18 thoughts on “The Relevance of Shakespeare

  1. SamanthaHarris

    I’m 52 and British born and educated. I’ve never read Shakespeare but I did stay in Stow-on-the-Wold for a week and do some research on him. Well, as much as could be done. He’s very famous. I feel that I missed out not being taught about him at school and being made to study To Kill A Mockingbird and The Crucible. In fact my whole education was based around America and Israel…one way or another. All british history I’ve learnt I’ve do so since leaving school. Why not incorporate him during drama lessons and then back up learning in English?

    Reply
    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Samantha. I am sorry that you missed out on Shakespeare during your time at school. But I’m pleased that you had the opportunity to do some research on the Bard of Avon later in life. I also read “To Kill a Mocking Bird” whilst at school, and to be frank enjoyed Macbeth and Hamlet more than Harper Lee’s novel. Its important that children are exposed to both Shakespeare and modern authors, but Shakespeare certainly should not be dumped in favour of “relevant” authors. I hope you have the opportunity (now that lockdown has been eased) to see Shakespeare performed. Thanks again for commenting. I am, incidentally also 52! Kevin

      Reply
  2. butimbeautiful

    I remember being in English class in school and most of the kids being unable to decipher what Shakespeare was on about. The trend I think is to make things easier for kids, to lower the bar. We should be raising it instead. And yeah, instilling an appreciation of the beauty and power of words.

    Reply
    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for your comment. I remember consulting the notes at the back of my Swan edition of (I think) Hamlet. Yes Shakespeare can be challenging, but reading him expands the mind and is, as you rightly say a rewarding experience. Kevin

      Reply
  3. ivor20

    superb article Kevin … and of course Shakespeare is relevant in our understanding of modern society today … I remember as a high school student, going on a bus trip to Melbourne to watch a live performance of Hamlet ..I was totallty enthralled… and I also remember kissing Heather in back seat on the way home .. (I wonder where Heather these days!!)

    Reply
    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for commenting, Ivor. I’m glad you had the opportunity to experience a live performance of Shakespeare and to kiss Heather. I’m sure she remembers your kiss to this day! I recall attending a live outdoor performance of 12th Night. Despite it getting somewhat chilly, it was a magical experience and I did, I am sure benefit from the performance. Yes Shakespeare remains relevant to us all. All the best. Kevin

      Reply
  4. Victoria Zigler

    Apart from anything else, who are we to decide what’s relevant to others? What’s relevant – or not – today, may change tomorrow. Also, we don’t know the ins and outs of their lives. We don’t know their innermost thoughts, and what may or may not speak to their souls and make their hearts sing. And we don’t know what the children might want to be when they grow up. There’s already too much pressure to focus on achieving high standards in education, and not enough time devoted to exploring imagination and creativity. Let’s not take away what little remains, or force our own opinions on what may or may not be relevant on to others – especially when those others are children, who are already struggling to figure out where they fit in this ever-changing world.

    Reply
  5. Chris The Story Reading Ape

    The first time I was exposed to Shakespeare was in College when we had drama classes where the teacher had us perform portions of the plays in class.
    We were fortunate that the teacher was also an Actor, teaching us how to project our voices and portray the meaning of the lines, etc, even when just reading them aloud, thereby helping us understand what the Bard meant.
    He also selected students to perform on stage in front of the whole school before Christmas, Easter and Summer breaks.
    As an aside, I believe those drama lessons and participating in the plays helped me gain more confidence than I would have had otherwise.

    Reply
    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for commenting, Chris. Its great that you had such a positive experience of performing Shakespeare. I think that participating in (or watching the performance of) a play brings the author’s work to life in a way that the written word can not. Its good that it also enhanced your confidence. Kevin

      Reply
  6. Carol

    Saying that kids should only be exposed to “relevant/modern” authors is like saying that kids should only read books that are about the culture to which they already belong. The beauty of reading is that it opens your mind to all kinds of different ways to exist—in time, in space, in imagination.

    Reply
    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for your comments, Carole. I agree with the points you make. In addition, I am of the view that some truths are timeless and, at his best Shakespeare captures this fact. Kevin

      Reply

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