Wherefore art thou in English classes, Shakespeare? Get thou to theatre
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Shakespeare and his works are notorious for being taught in English class, with everything from Romeo and Juliet to Hamlet being drilled into our brains since freshman year.
Shakespeare is famous for those scripts, but one day, whilst doing my mountains of English homework, I had a thought. Why the hell are we reading a play?
Think about it. Shakespeare wrote these books – as scripts. Like something that was meant to be read by actors and have emotion behind it as opposed to a normal book that tells you the emotion and the setting along with the dialogue and story.
The bulk of the English curriculum focuses on learning to interpret the old English language, but don’t you think it would be way easier to understand what the characters are saying, if you saw people saying it..on stage..with emotion..like they’re supposed to do?
“But we watch the movie of the play in class,” I hear you scream, but that adds to my point, why bother reading the script if we are going to watch it anyway?
What is the point of interpreting the emotion when we’re going/we’re supposed to see the emotion right in front of us?
Now, I’m not saying Shakespeare is too hard for high school, because I’ve gotten this far and I definitely get the gist of the scripts I’ve read. It just doesn’t make sense to me that we are reading words that aren’t supposed to be read.
One of the biggest arguments to teaching Shakespeare is that it prepares kids to more thoroughly understand the kind of language in books that they will be reading in college. Now this sounds legit, but (from my extensive research of my older brother’s college work) colleges use books with broad descriptions and vocabulary, not bad puns and over-sexualized double entendres. The farthest you’ll get with Shakespeare is “Intro to Theater” class.
Some better choices for English class literature with extensive vocabulary might be Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, Lolita*, any of the Edgar Allan Poe works, and so on. My mother has been trying to get me to read Jane Austen for years and I can’t understand a word of it, thanks Shakespeare.
Instead of teaching old English until it’s drilled into our heads, work on actual vocabulary that could be useful in today’s society. Shakespeare is fun, so it doesn’t need to be cut out of curriculum entirely. Maybe have lessons more focused on the play itself and not the script. Discuss the story-lines and characters as they were written in that time period, anything but memorizing passages and “interpreting” them.
Not to mention Shakespeare is rarely taught in theater classes because of the bulk it has been done in English. Maybe cut some theater teachers some slack and let them have their plays to teach?
All in all, Shakespeare’s plays are amazing and really fun to see and perform, but they lose some magic once we’ve concluded for the hundredth time that “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” is not asking where Romeo is. Let’s give English teachers a break and theater teachers some room to grow. You don’t need to stamp out the emotion to understand the weight of the words.
*”But Lolita is about pedophilia!” Yeah, and Juliet was 13 and marries an 18 year old in one of the most acclaimed romance/tragedies of all time. Lolita is an amazing book, anyone can fight me on this.