Controversy over who he ‘really’ was remain to this day, but should the Bard, whoever he was, remain a compulsory part of UK children’s education?
All the Yes points:
- Shakespeare enriches our language
- Shakespeare as national treasure
- As a tool for cultural integration
- It relates to our lives now
- The Man Who is The Man
All the No points:
- Freedom of teachers to teach what they want
- Shakespeare is too advanced
- Shakespeare isn’t the best poet ever
- Why Shakespeare?
- Shakespeare is boring
- Shakespeare can be innapropriate for younger readers.
Shakespeare enriches our language
Shakespeare wrote a collection of poetry and drama that has survived five centuries in good stead, leaving our language richer and more vibrant through his use of neologisms and newly minted phrases that remain to this day. Many people use Shakespeare in everyday speech without realising it, and the richness of the language that a study of Shakespeare brings would be lost to future generations if they did not come across it at school.
As a teaching aid, Shakespeare’s innovative use of vocabulary helps show children how to use the language they are born with better than a bland textbook, even when used without this aim in mind. We must ensure our children have access to Shakespeare, and since parents seem to be too lazy to read to their children any more, it must be the place of school to offer this education.
Though there is no consensus as to the meaning of ‘enrichment’, Shakespeare perhaps ‘enriched’ our language, but does not continue to do so, as the enormous raft of exciting new writing talent does on a daily basis. Moreover Shakespeare seemingly constitutes the immediate focus of anyone looking at innovation in English – if one looks to Chaucer, or Milton, one can perceive a wealth of new vocabulary and phraseology just as, if not more important than Shakespeare’s contribution. It is easy to ignore other influences on language in the wave of (largely artificially driven) excitement over Shakespearian etymology; the Norman conquest, for example, or even the advent of the digital age.
Many authors can be said to ‘enrich’ the language, if they are a successful author. Choosing to make just one compulsory is entirely arbitrary, and restricts the education children receive. In being imposed, the focus on Shakespeare produces many disenchanted students for any one intoxicated reader.
Shakespeare as national treasure
An education in England cannot ignore the vast cultural wealth of our country. For too long have we lost pride in our national icons and allowed nationalists to reclaim them as their own. Keeping control of the powerful icons such as Shakespeare is a tool for integration.
Shakespeare has enlightened the lives of the people of this country for 500 years, and for good reason. His poetry and drama represent the pinnacle of the English language, and influences the way we speak today. It is a beautiful body of work, ranging from comedy to tragedy, murder to hatred, treating difficult subjects brilliantly.
If we are to remain proud of the history of this country, we cannot ignore the contribution made by this one man to our culture, and wider European culture. Shakespeare made his name here, but has been read by an audience far beyond the reaches of “this sceptred isle” (Shakespeare: Richard II, 2.i).
The name Shakespeare is ubiquitous within the study of English literature and this is unlikely to change. Almost every student has knowledge of Shakespeare (almost my entire English GCSE was a study of various Shakespearian works), and I’m certain that the large majority of university students, if asked their opinion on whether this was of benefit to them, would say it was neither enjoyable nor enriching.
Making the teaching of Shakespeare optional would be far more logical, as younger students are totally capable of making these choices themselves. Why ignore the works of contemporary writers? Any students considering writing as a career will undoubtedly gain a firmer grasp of fiction writing by studying writers such as Tolkien, and hopefully even enjoy it, and wouldn’t you be more receptive to work you enjoyed?
Although Shakespeare is of clear value to our culture and language, compulsory teaching of his works is narrow minded and inconsiderate to the individuals in compulsory education.
As a tool for cultural integration
Many people are worried about an upcoming generation of immigrants that do not identify themselves as British, while living in Britain and paying taxes to the British government.
Culture is a key tool in integration; if you can share a cultural identity, you can share other values and bring the wider community together.
Teaching Shakespeare, a bastion of British culture, in schools to this end is far better than forcing citizenship ceremonies and oaths of allegiance on children. It is not forceful, but creates a sense that they are part of a country with a long and proud history, willing to integrate new communities into its growth.
The idea that simply learning about a long-dead author will make people feel British is ridiculous. Art and literature can be appreciated without the need to be a part of the culture that produced it – admiring Macchu Picchu doesn’t integrate you with the Mayans, for instance.
Any immigrant to the UK looking at Shakespeare will see the typification of the ‘dead white man’, the personification of all that is patriotically English, and feel no greater inclination towards cultural integration than if he or she had glanced on an etching of Goethe in Germany or heard ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in Australia.
The images that Shakespeare created are outdated. Anyone who reads Shakespeare and then observes modern day Britain, with no prior knowledge of the historial relevance, would not see any link, and who could blame them? Shakespeare did not write about the things one associates with Britain today.
It relates to our lives now
Shakespeare was way ahead of his time. Many of his characters and situatins are modern day and relate to us. Also, his plays ad poetry show us things about our selves that other peices of literature often can’t
C.S. Lewis wrote: Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.
I am studying in the ISC board of the Indian education system and have done 3 (unabridged version) plays of Shakespeare over almost 5 years. I’d disagree with the people who say that it is out of date and his language is confusing and boring. The mastermind himself has invented a whole new phase of the English language. I might add, that to this date we all use words which directly or indirectly have their origins in Shakespeare’s works. Also, many movies are being made on his works which has further generated an interest in the Bard. And who says the plays adhere to only the past centuries? They are even applicable to today’s 21st century. There are still Macbeths, Julius Caesars and others in the society. It’s just that their lifestyle has become more advanced, more tech-savvy and are dressed differently. But don’t people still strive for the ‘Numero Uno’ position in let’s say, the corporate world? Power struggle is still a part of this world and so are power-hungry people. It’s all a game of politics. How many times have you read in the newspapers of people murdering spouses because of jealousy? Othello is still relevant to today’s society. I personally believe Shakespeare to be a pro at deciphering the human emotions and the working of the mind. One can also see his works from a psychological point of view and identify with some of the characters. It might also give an insight to the students who are learning about it and give a better view of the real world as opposed to seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. Hence, I say that a person who has not read Shakespeare’s work is really missing out on a lot. I consider myself privileged to be reading his works and will totally miss studying them when I pass out.
The Man Who is The Man
When Shakespeare wrote into Othello’s mouth that he had seen,
” The Anthropothagi whose heads do dwell beneath their necks “,
when he was justifying his prowess before the Venetian court; well, I thought – ‘ That’s bloody good! ‘
What a metaphor for an exotic journeyman! What a CV! Match that!
So, as a teenager, I ventured forth…
And I found…
” And, as imagination bodies forth
The form of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination, …
This is a speech by Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
That is the poetic light that shines behind every poet’s sensibility since the Renaissance in Europe, and that has blazed across the Western world ever since.
It takes account, due to the Renaissance’s recognition of ancient scripts, of Greek and Arabic histories. That is – Othello himself, and his recollections of other lands he felt were valuable in his experience. Those lands beyond Europe where the Anthropothagi dwell.
There is a coming-together, in Elizabethan times, that melded ancient and modern.
Truly, a Renaissance!
Hence the term!
We should be doing it now, in our terms. In our day!
Freedom of teachers to teach what they want
Teaching is best done when teachers know what they’re talking about. Making teachers present material on certain subjects is dangerous in interpretive subjects like English, where teachers may not really know what they’re talking about. Shakespeare is not a compulsory part of many English degrees, so the teacher may not be as good on Shakespeare as he is on other, equally deserving, poets, thus lowering the standard of teaching.
Pupils get the most out of school when they enjoy what they’re doing. A teacher, similarly, teaches best when they enjoy what they’re doing. Having subjects imposed on them erodes their ability to teach in a subject like English; allowing them the freedom to tailor their lessons to their own passions and the abilities of their pupils allows for more creativity in the classroom, more enjoyment for everyone, and overall a better quality of education.
Shakespeare wrote a long sonnet sequence and many, many plays. To suggest that there isn’t variety within his oeuvre is to be patently ignorant about the greatest English poet ever to have lived.
If a teacher doesn’t have the ability to apply their skills learnt reading Beckett to reading Shakespeare, one questions why they are teaching at all.
Shakespeare is too advanced
The kind of ideas Shakespeare writes about are highly advanced, as is the language he uses. Many pupils are put off by this, and so will not learn as much as they might with another poet who is more accessible.
This is not to say that teachers shouldn’t feel they can use Shakespeare when it is appropriate, but we must accept that there are different levels of ability in the classroom, and different abilities need different materials to maximise their potential.
There is huge variety both thematically and concerning the use of language over Shakespeare’s plays. Certain plays are far too complex for key stage 4 Children, for example Measure for Measure which is often referred to as a ‘problem play’ and deals with very complex ideas of justice and sexual conduct. However, there are certainly many plays and sonnets that are far more light hearted that could be easily understood by children of that age and younger with just a little help on the language aspect. One may look to plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Twelfth Night in this instance. Yes, it can be argued that even the simpler plays may not be fully understood by a young teenager but one must consider the question – does this matter? As long as the child is able to grasp the basic concepts he or she will be able to enjoy the story. Yes, it can also be argued that the language is far too complex to expect a child to learn but this is underestimating the ability of children. They are expected to learn foreign languages such as French and German at school, even before Shakespeare’s plays are tackled. If they are able to pick up a language that is entirely separate from English then surely they are perfectly capable of tackling Shakespeare, who uses merely English albeit with some words that are no longer common.
Shakespeare isn’t the best poet ever
Shakespeare’s reputation is largely inflated, and relative to the age you live in. In the 17th century, for example, several of his plays were rewritten for performance, with Lear given an alternate ending for example.
Although there are of course some very fine moments, and some very good plays, he is by no means the uber-poet some make him out to be. The Merry Wives of Windsor, for example, is pretty much rubbish. Shakespeare has become synonymous with ‘the best’ erroneously; there are other authors equally deserving of time on the curriculum, so giving Shakespeare the limelight is unfair and only cements his irrationally-given place as the nation’s best.
The compulsory inclusion of Shakespeare on the syllabus does not necessarily stop other authors and playwrights from being included. For example, Shakespeare formed part of my English Literature GCSE course, however I still read the works of several other writers and these works were examined with an equal and sometimes greater weighting.
In addition to this, Shakespeare’s literary value does not lie simply in the merit of his work. His influence on other authors has been enormous, and an understanding of Shakespeare’s work opens doors to many other great works, and a fair amount of popular culture.
Studying the form of sonnet known as ‘Shakespearean’ might be possible without ever having read one by Shakespeare himself, but surely you’d be missing something. In Huxley’s Brave New World ‘sophisticated’ society shuns Shakespeare. Without having read anything he wrote, how would the reader know what meaning to interpret from this attitude? Like it or not, Shakespeare is a major part of the English canon and his influence is stretches too wide to disregard.
I would suggest Robert Burns, instead. He had much more to say that was meaningful to the common people.
Shakespeare had a fare more wide-ranging influence on the development of English literature – perhaps in a debate about education in Scotland the point would stand, but in this context Shakespeare is by far the superior figure.
Also, the debate is not about who had more to say that is meaningful to “the common people” but who is more important to recognise as an author. Shakespeare’s work is important not only in its content but its wider context as a body of work that influenced later writers.
Shakespeare is boring
Many people enjoy Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets whether reading them or seeing them performed. Many people though, especially school pupils find it incredibly dull. What is the purpose is spending so much time on teaching Shakespeare when some people will simply never enjoy it. There is a vast wealth of literature out there and by insisting that Shakespeare is in some way the best or the highest writing there will ever be, teachers drive their pupils away from literature and make them believe everything available is stuffy and dull. People want to read what reflects their lives and makes them feel alive. Shakespeare is often taught backwards, so pupils know the entire plot before reading it, so there are no surprises or twists in the plot.
Shakespeare can be innapropriate for younger readers.
Many adults will find Shakespeare interesting and original but a younger student may find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. In many of Shakespeares comedies it refers to sexual references and terminology that could be harmfull to the young mind. For this reason students should not be forced to learn Shakespeare instead they should be given a choice to learn different material free from the offensive use of crude terminology.