Why do we only study Shakespeare and not his contempories at high school?Shakespeare and his contempories all wrote similar plays and poetrys, so we do we only study Shakespeare?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Actually, there are schools in America that do study Shakespeare's contemporaries: Marlowe, Sidney, Spenser, Jonson and others. There are many schools and colleges in other countries that carefully study the full canon of English Renaissance writers. Bear in mind that when students in countries like India study English Renaissance writers--or even earlier writers like Chaucer--they study Elizabethan English through the educational medium of contemporary English, which is for them a second or third learned language.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on


We study Shakespeare because he is considered classic, but we have a great deal to get past. The stories took place so long ago, and the writing is so archaic that students often struggle with it. Shakespeare also uses a lot of puns and inside jokes. I don't think it's likely that any other playwright from the time would be worth it. Shakespeare is part of the cannon, but the difference in time and language use would make any other play from that time period just as difficult to teach without the benefits.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I agree with my colleagues, and I would add one other simple explanation: there is simply not time to read everything, so we have to choose the best. Why would we read work that is not as good just to say we've read more? It just doesn't make sense and students deserve the best.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Your assumption is that Shakespeare and his contemporaries all wrote "similar" plays and poetry.  I am not sure that I agree with this assessment.  Sure, they all wrote plays and poetry, but that does not mean they were all the same.  Instead, it seems that Shakespeare was simply more talented than his contemporaries.  Now that we are so far from Shakespeare's time, we cannot study all the authors who might be deserving.  We only devote a lot of time to studying the most outstanding author, and that is Shakespeare.

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stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

There are a couple qualifications to the original question. My suspicion - and hope - is that you do not "only" study the writings of William Shakespeare in your high school, uverworld. It may seem like it at times, but I'm guessing you have and will continue to encounter other authors.  As noted in posts 3 and 4, the volume of writing Shakespeare produced and the timeless universality of the situations and characters in his writings make them classics worthy of study - to say nothing of his genius use of the English language.

The other qualification in your question is asking why not study Shakespeare's "contemporaries" - other authors alive at approximately the same time. I can't know your curriculum, but there are other authors who lived at roughly the same time and whose work you may have studied; Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Richard Burbage are possibly the three best known.

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whatever1 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

Shakespeare is tried and true and has stood the test of time.  Thus, he's a relatively safe bet.  I've taught Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Much Ado About Nothing, and despite the initial reluctance on the part of the students regarding the language of Shakespeare's time, they get over it quickly because he's so adept at portraying people, with all of thier foibles and frailties.  It seems that in every Shakespearean play you encounter a character with whom you identify, or a character who reminds you of someone you know.  He also knew how to play a crowd---just the right mix of drama and humor, sex and story.

We do, however, cover other plays in my class, such as Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin In the Sun and Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men.

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salimj | College Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

This is an interesting question. When we compare Shakespeare with his contemporaries it will be like comparing a hare with lion. He died at the age of 52. In this short duration he has written 38 plays 154 sonnets and 4 long poems. I think this is unimaginable for a writter to think about. I am not only speaking about the quantity of his writtings but also about the quality of his works. After 2.5 centuary even today when we read his works we feel them relevent even today.

He never tries to preach something what he tried was to show the life as it is to the readers . When we look at modern plays or movies we see that the hero posseses all good things and the vilian all bad things . I feel it is against the reality of the world. In everyone of us, no matter how great we are, we have both good and bad. Only the degree varies. When we look at this reality Shakespeare is apt even today.

Take the example of the tragic flow of Macbeth. When we see him in the begining of the play he is a super human. King Duncan praises him to the maximum but the problem with him is the desire for power of ambition. When we look at the modern world we see the samething . We may be a good person in many ways but one tragic flow can cause a disaster.

Hence I believe that studying Shakespeare in Schools is good but it does not be confined only to Shakespeare but to other writters of the time also

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