Should students study Shakespeare?At school we are studying Shakespeare and I want to know what your perspective is on the topic? I agree with the statement- but maybe teaching style should be...

Should students study Shakespeare?

At school we are studying Shakespeare and I want to know what your perspective is on the topic? I agree with the statement- but maybe teaching style should be changed. Shakespeare was not written to be words on a page.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Should students study Shakespeare?!  This should be a moot point.

The renowned Shakespearean critic, Harold Bloom, writes this of William Shakespeare:

Shakespeare will abide, even if he were to be expelled by the academics, in itself most unlikely.  He extensively informs the language we speak, his prncipal characters have become our mythology, and he, rather than his involuntary follower Freud, is our psychologist.

Language is culture.  To expunge the Elizabethan language from the Shakespearean plays is to deform the culture of that time, and to leave modern English without its past.  Just an examination of the language aids English-speaking people to understand some of the derivatives of their Modern English.  For instance, several words in the ebonic dialect [e.g. funky--used by Edmund Spenser, a contemporary of Shakespeare's ] are actually carry-overs from this sixteenth century language, as are now substandard verb forms which also are carry-overs from the usage of sixteenth century.  [e.g. in Romeo and Juliet, Lady Montague asks Benvolio, "Have you saw him today?" ] Transforming the plays into their modern translations destroys, not only the historic content, but it also destroys the poetic beauty.  For instance, the entire play of Romeo and Juliet which contains two sonnets is also itself a poem as it is written in blank verse [iambic pentatmeter]. 

Anyway, there is no need to substitute modern English in place of Shakespeare's words since there are editions of Shakespeare's plays that have the modern version beside the Elizabethan., After all, has not enough European culture and history not already be eradicated that Shakespeare beautiful language, too, should be killed? 

Not surprisingly, when the plays are performed with the physical action, even those who do not comprehend all the language still understand.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hmmm. I'm gathering from your comments that while you think it is important to study Shakespeare and see the value of it, you're in a setting where the class is simply reading words rather than enjoying the richness of Shakespeare's language, characters, and storylines. If that's so, it is a shame. Plays, in general, are meant to be seen as well as heard, and students would undoubtedly benefit from acting out at least some of the play. (Have you tried, respectfully, asking your teacher if your class can do such a thing?)

Shakespeare should continue to be taught in school, and part of that should include some kind of acting-out of some scenes, at least. Let me remind you, though, that sometimes worthwhile things are more difficult than we like them to be, so don't get discouraged if you have to work or read something multiple times before you feel like you understand something. By the way, there's always the option of gathering a group on your own for an after-school study session and acting things out for yourselves. I'm guessing it would be fun!

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Shakespearean language should be updated to be more modern and understandable.

Students in non-English speaking countries study Shakespeare, but they do not do so in archaic forms of their languages.  Somehow, they still manage to get the benefits of studying this author.

I would argue that the value of Shakespeare's work is in what it says about the human condition.  Yes, the language is (at times) magnificent, but much of the time, the language does not really add anything to our understanding and in fact detracts from it because it is so hard to understand.

So I would love to see Shakespeare modernized in a way that would preserve some of the most famous parts (the "to be or not to be" soliloquy and other such things) but would put the rest in more understandable language.

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I had occasion once to hear Orson Welles deliver a soliloquy from The Merchant of Venice. His performance was amazing. Not only that, he said Shakespeare had a comment on about every subject in life. Over the years, I have found that to be true. Aside from that, I firmly believe one should learn Shakespeare if for no other reason for the poetic and lyrical beauty his words exhibit. How much less rich our society would be if we did not have Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and (for my money) Richard III? How will it be learned if it is not taught? And where would it be taught if not in our schools?  Shakespeare is such an integral part of our culture and society that he should be required reading for everyone seeking knowledge.

bigdreams1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Not only is Shakespeare a powerful writer both with the use of his words, and his insight into human nature; it is also important to study him because he is part of world history and we need to know from whence we come.

A good English teacher will help you explore not only the works of the author, but the times in which he wrote, and the circumstances that formed his view on life. By understanding England (and the world) in the 1600's we come to understand a little  bit more about why WE are the way we are.

I agree, however, with my posters above that Shakespeare is more enjoyable and more understandable with a performance of it rather than a reading of it.


Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even though Shakespeare "was not written to be words on a page," students have been reading and learning and memorizing (uh oh--did I say a forbidden word) Shakespeare regularly for more generations than I can count. Perhaps what is needed is not a new teaching approach but a new determination that the mind needs to be stretched and guided instead of accommodated at all levels and in all possible regards.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I completely agree. Shakespeare is meant to be performed. I never teach Shakespeare by having students just read it. We watch it be performed, listen to it be performed, and most importantly, PERFORM it. The performing is the most important part. Shakespeare is meant to be experienced.
crystaltu001 | Student

Yes student should study Shakespeare because he has wrote many plays and those plays all can teach students something. Shakespeare's plays all are really good and they are fun to read in the class and discuss about.

smartipi | Student

Shakespeare created many words we use in our common language today. We should study him so we get a understanding of what the words we use mean and where they came from. If the students understand the story then I am sure that they would enjoy studying Shakespeare

robot-ninja-sheep | Student

Shakespeare is AMAZING. We have been studying it for ages so obviously there is something half decent about him. Shakespeare's writing is considered to be the pinnacle of literature greatness. Every piece of writing Shakespeare has produced has many meanings that can be related to everyday life. Each of his characters represent people that can be transferred to modern life. Even though his works were written many years ago, they can still be enjoyed and 'modernised' so they can sound like great stories that were written in todays times. Unlike other stories, his never age.

Shakespeare's language is also rich and deep. Even though when reading it for the first time it may seem illegible, taking time to read it again and immerse yourself in the language, it is actually poetic in nature.

Because of the aforementioned reason, Shakespeare does sound best when used in performances and plays. The poetic ebb and flow of his words sound great when spoken, and the true immersive nature of his plays starts to become more prominant.

All in all, we study Shakespeare because he is an awesome story writer.

So there.

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