I just don't understand why reading shakespeare is a part of our high school curriculum. Also I don't see what his works are offering us as students.
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I think that there are many students who share your views, but I will try to convince you that reading Shakespeare is a worthwhile endeavour.
While language has changed, the central themes that run throughout Shakespeare's works are still relevant in today's society. Hamlet, for example, is a great character who readers today can connect with easily. He is an introspective person who is questioning himself. Many people today can make connections with him. We all go through periods of being introspective. We have all or will all questions ourselves at one point or another.
Most of his works include an idea or character that is still very relevant in today's society. Try not to be turned off by the language and look at the deeper meaning. This will help you appreciate it more.
You didn't mention what grade you're in. I have some reservations about teaching Shakespeare to Freshmen or Sophomores, although we did "The Merchant of Venice" when I was a freshman, and I remember liking it (maybe that's the first sign that you're going to be an english major :))
There is something wonderful about Shakespeare's use of language. Most of his plots are just "ordinary." What makes the plays so memorable is that he says things better than anyone else (up for discussion, I suppose) has said them. Coleridge's definition of poetry, "The best words in the best order" describes most of Shakespeare's work. It takes work to train your ear/eyes/brain to perceive this, but it's well worth the work.
I would suggest you take a look at Hamlet's soliquies. If you get a copy of a book like "No Fear Hamlet," and read the "translation" into modern English and then read Shakespeare's language, I think you'll see why it's so great.
Shakespeare's topics are universal. That means that they effect every person regardless of continent, ethnic background, religion, and gender. Everyone is effected by or interested in love, jealousy, anger, revenge, power, the paranormal, incest, sibling rivalry, marriage, family relationships, humor, dirty jokes, murder, racism, gender issues, and the list goes on. Depending on the play, you get a combination of this list and more in the main and subplots of the play. If it's the language that is a barrier, find yourself a modern translation. However, let me encourage you not to completely ignore the beauty and the flow of the language Shakespeare uses. Especially in the love scenes...revisit the conversation Romeo and Juliet first have at the party in her home. It is lovely and romantic and fun. Makes you wish you had someone to love you this intensely just on your appearance...love at first sight. Don't be too quick to judge. The more you read, the easier it gets and the more informed you will be. So many things in music, TV, movies, and other entertainment is quoted either from Shakespeare or the Bible. If you aren't familiar with these things, you miss the connection and the joke isn't as funny or the point isn't as clear. You'd be surprised what you're missing in your every day life just being ignorant of the origins of certain words, phrases, and story lines. Give it another go!
Another reason Shakespeare is still read is for the very reason many students don't like reading it: it is difficult.
You have to read carefully and pay attention to every word, and because the vernacular is not familiar to modern readers, you have to really struggle to extract the intended meaning. But this is part of critical reading. You will not always be able to understand a book, or a critical essay, or a legal statute on your first reading. You have to read again, and again, until you can satisfy yourself that you understand.
As Post #3 has so aptly written, there is, indeed, a beauty in the language of Shakespeare. For, he utilizes the rhythm of language, the turn of phrase, the beautiful connotations of words, the mot juste. Shakespeare is the master of language.
Then, too, within the beauty of the sounds and suggestions of words, there is a profundity in Shakespeare's language that is timeless. His penetrating perspicacity is not to be equalled; Shakespeare understands the human soul and human nature. This reason is why people see tragic flaws in modern people that parallel those of Shakespearean characters. There is much to be learned from Shakespeare and much to be delighted in, as well.
In answer to the question as to why high school students must read Shakespeare, I offer this quote from the first president of the first college in the United States: "Learn everything while you can. Later on, you will understand why."
Let's see what Romeo and Juliet is about: sex, gangs, overbearing parents, running away from the law, obsessively strong love. There are riots, murders, couples elope, and run away from home. The main characters are 13-18! These people make impulsive decisions, are selfish, and are really depressed.
Umm, high schoolers today do not experience any of this, do they?
Every one of his plays deals with uncontrollable rage, jealousy, sex, racism, sex, violence, murder, sex, depression, revenge, sex, taunting, drunkenness, lewdness, sex. Did I mention sex?
Teenagers are not interested in any of those things, either, right? If you are human (and I know you are), then these are feelings that you have every single day. Everyone does! Even adults!
So, whatever you do, look for these themes. Revel in them. And, if teachers do not reveal these themes to you, then it is up to you to find them. They are there -- and, believe me, they are not hidden!!
Finally, do not get all hung up on the names of persons, or the "poetry," etc. When you watch House on TV, do you understand any of the medical jargon? Or remember any of the names of the people other than the main characters? NO!
These PLAYS were meant to be SEEN, not read. Watch them. You will be amazed at how much you actually understand! You will realize that you do not need to know the meaning of every single word. Poetic? OK. But the STORY is cooler!!
Report back to us the name of the play and let us know what themes you discover!
A lot of us here speak of the language of Shakespeare as if we were dusty 19th century, sighing "poets," writhing with high-falutin' words and lofty ideals, fainting at the hint of a dirty or unstarched collar!
Shakespeare is hard, but, so is life! A difficult life with poor Hamlet stuck in two worlds, wondering whether suicide is better than revenge and murder . Life -- with not-quite 14 year-old Juliet hoping the sun goes down quickly so that she can have sex. It is filthy-mouthed Iago, persuading intelligent, handsome, successful Othello, that he is not worthy of his white wife, because he is black -- meaning, ugly. It is villainous Shylock. Or, rather, it is sympathetic Shylock. No, villainous -- sympathetic -- villain..., oh, I give up, whatever it was that Shakespeare intended, it is about Jewish Shylock!
Yes, Shakespeare wrote brilliant poetry! His sonnets and plays literally make me dizzy with emotional confusion. They are unsettling, with words and syntax that like Shrek and onions, have many layers.
But, it was his characters, his insight into our innermost conscience, that makes these works so fascinating, so hard to pigeon-hole -- and so immediate to us, 400 years after they were written!
Shakespeare is NOT spinach: "Eat it, it's good for you!" It is blood, death, guts, sex; it is those quiet moments of self-doubt in the wee hours of the morning. Shakespeare is hard, because life is hard. The wonderful and complex poetry is only icing on the cake!
The works of William Shakespeare allow modern readers to connect with prior generations of people with the rewarding knowledge that not much has changed between men and women since his time.
I feel that students benefit greatly from reading Shakespeare because they are wonderful to analyze and interpret. His characters are so vivid, with great depth and some of them make such tragic mistakes that are so relevant to any age that they continue to teach every new generation of readers.
I feel smarter for knowing Shakespeare, and when my students finish a work of William Shakespeare, they do feel proud about having suffered through it. But I know that they feel smart because they read Shakespeare.
The primary reason for including works of Shakespeare in curriculum of schools even 400 years after Shakespeare is that these works are really good. But perhaps more important reason is that these works are also accepted as very good among the academicians.
You do not see the justification for being to made read Shakespeare, because you do not enjoy reading it, and perhaps are unable to appreciate its value. For this we can identify two contributing factors. One, the old English of Shakespeare which almost sounds like a foreign language even to English speaking persons. two, inability of your teachers to guide you into seeing the beauty material included in your curriculum.
I think it would be an excellent Idea to translate Shakespeare in modern Moder English, and include only such works in curriculum of at least up to tenth grade. A have come across publication giving such translations. I believe with such translations, even teachers will find it easier to teach Shakespeare in twenty-first century.
Reading Shakespeare does seem a bit silly, doesn't it? Often times it seems like it is not relevant in this day and age and we should be reading something a bit more modern. However, when you really think about it, Shakespeare's themes are very modern. Love stories, betrayal, violence, etc, is all still relevant today.
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