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.