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Is English the right class for Shakespeare to be taught in high school?Surely subjects...

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mattyb123 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 5, 2010 at 5:47 AM via web

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Is English the right class for Shakespeare to be taught in high school?

Surely subjects like history, drama and even pyscology would seem more suitable subjects for Shakespeare to be taught in? I am not totally against the idea of shakespeare being taught in highschool, but the amount of time spent on learning it in english class is ridiculous compared to other aspects of the subject. I have read through a lot of other posts trying to find the answer to this question, why is shakespeare necassary?, and i must admit before i started searching i was fully against shakespeare being taught in schools. But, although shakespeare does help improve a students potential learning ability to possibly adapt to more difficult learning experiences in the future, surely this isnt the only resource that can accomplish this. I currently do music unit 3+4 and at no point have we been taught about Mozart, and how he revolutionised the way music was seen. We learn what we NEED to know, i.e. key signatures, recognising intervals, reading sheet music etc., to be able to write and play music. I don't think learning 'ye olde english' written back in the 15-1600's will help me in any way, or how taking twice as long trying to decipher it rather then studying something written in the present will benefit me greater. I'm not totally against the idea of it being taught in schools, it does provide a bit of cultural history and what could be described as common knowledge, but should there be a whole term of school in year 11 English devoted to just Shakespeare?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 5, 2010 at 7:16 AM (Answer #2)

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I'm sure you will get plenty of responses to this question, but here are a few thoughts on the subject. First, Shakespeare is considered the greatest writer in the history of the English language. Why, then, would a writer of such high stature NOT be studied thoroughly? As for the "ye olde English" that can, at times, be tough to decipher and understand: It is an earlier variation of our language and probably deserves investigation by English students; many readers will find the language lyrically beautiful, especially when read aloud. Seeing a production of a Shakespeare play performed on stage will further enhance the coherence of your understanding of the work. It should certainly be no more difficult to understand than much of today's modern teen slang is to older people. To answer your other questions:

  • Should Shakespeare be taught in 11th grade for an extended period of time? Certainly.
  • Should it be taught for an entire term? Probably not.
  • Should Shakespeare be taught in other classes beside English? Absolutely. I have taught (and attended) theatre classes where Shakespeare was the main focus for extended periods. The Bard's histories would certainly be excellent reference for a British History or Brit Lit class. College English majors will find this out for themselves when they undertake their Shakespeare classes (in college, I took two classes that were solely dedicated to Shakespeare's plays).

Many students today do not seem to grasp the importance of the teaching and learning of historically relevant literature, but as you grow older, you will probably discover a different answer to your statement that 17th century material will not "help me in any way." The legacy of Shakespeare's greatness is all around you: in music, art, cinema, TV, advertising and literature. His lyrical uses of language, plot twists, character misidentification and romantic coupling are still among the most imitated today. 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 5, 2010 at 7:26 AM (Answer #3)

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In other disciplines there have been novels, short stories, plays have been read that are germane to the courses.  For instance, George Orwell's Animal Farm is often required reading when students learn about communism in their history classes.  William Shakespeare's works are certainly relevant in so many courses. His history plays, while not always historically true, do provide historical content as well as insights into the figures of history. Of course, there is much that can be apprehended about the Elizabethan Age with its beliefs in the supernatural, their language from which much of our modern English is derived--we study about our ancestors and learn of ourselves, do we not?--and its culture.

Other plays provide some of the greatest insights into the human heart and psyche ever written. Regarding Shakespeare's Hamlet, many authorities find him the prototype for the melancholic personality.  Noted Shakespearean authority, Harold Bloom, contends that Sigmund Freud took many of his lessons in psychology from Hamlet.

If we sacrifice the reading of Shakespeare's works, we lose some our greatest understandings of humanity, not to mention some of the most beautiful expressions of the human experience.  For, in reading Shakespeare English speaking people learn the origins of much thought that is yet in the Englsh and American culture.

 

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missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 5, 2010 at 8:33 AM (Answer #4)

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I agree with both of the above answers but have a few thoughts to add. Anytime someone dies and still commands an audience half a millenium or more after their death must have been good at something. In our cultures, that list is limited to names like Socrates, Plato, Jesus, and yes, your Shakespeare.

I think Shakespeare is a big deal in English for several reasons and the least of which is the fact that it is in an Old English style. That's not his fault, it's just when he was around.

A whole term (meaning a trimester or semester) at grade 11 would be tough, but there are certainly enough simpler texts of Shakespeare's that could take up that amount of time. This would even allow an English teacher in particular the ability to teach to every standard in their continuum, and to draw students to the concept-based truths in all of literature because no one reflect the breadth of the human experience like Shakespeare.

I always asked my teachers why. I appreciate that you are doing the same because you are engaged in your education. Shakespeare contributed more new words to our vocabulary than any other author I know of. Shakespeare wrote in a way that enables us to see every literary device that I can think of.

Shakespeare is hard. That alone is a really good reason to keep studying him. In our society, everyone wants an easy way out, but those things that challenge us are what grow us.

 

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ryzamartinez | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

Posted September 11, 2010 at 3:13 AM (Answer #5)

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Although Shakespeare may not be the easiest writer to understand (and clearly, as it had been pointed out in the previous answers that it is not his fault), he is essential in learning English. I have seen your point that Shakespeare's works may be used in teaching history, drama and psychology, given the Shakespeare's works have characters that have depth and his works clearly show a strong sense of historical content, but it is still imperative that his works be taught in English classes. Here are some of the reasons:

  • One of the most important macro skills that must be developed in English classes is reading. A complete reading experience of English pieces isn't complete without Shakespeare, especially that one of the purposes of reading is to access the great literary masterpieces.
  • With Shakespeare, teachers can do varied things -- make them read and write, listen to a song and use it as a vantage point in understanding a sonnet, speak out their opinions the way Shakespearean characters would deliver a soliloquy, etc. Shakespeare is for the adaptable teacher who can teach a lot of subjects such as figures of speech, literary elements such as setting and characters, poetry, drawing emotions from experiences, etc.
  • There are a lot of GREAT writers out there but Shakespeare is one of the GREATEST. It would be unfair for students if they learn about Hemingway and others but not Shakespeare who have shown every possible human experience and emotion in his writing.

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