The teaching of Shakespeare should be compulsory
Last updated: March 2, 2017
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?
Shakespeare enriches our language
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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
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
" 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
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.
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
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.
Shakespeare isn't the best poet ever
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.
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.
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
Shakespeare can be innapropriate for younger readers.