Shakespeare can be rewarding to people of any age. His language is sometimes very difficult, but his stories range from gripping and shocking to hilarious and moving. Something that is much debated about teaching Shakespeare is whether it is best to introduce students to his work by taking them to performances of his plays or to first familiarize them with the text.
Most of Shakespeare’s writing was meant to be performed on stage. He did not write novels; the text was intended to be spoken. Good actors can bring Shakespeare’s words to life, enabling modern audiences to understand their characters’ motivations and dilemmas.
It is also helpful to study the text because of its complex themes and beautiful passages of poetry. Another reason for examining the text is because much, though not most, of the vocabulary used by Shakespeare has become obsolete or changed meaning. On top of that, these works were written in a very different time and place, so presenting the historical context of Elizabethan England can be very illuminating.
It is okay for students not to understand everything in Shakespeare’s works. Scholars are still deciphering his writing. It is more important that students enjoy it. Shakespeare captured certain remarkable elements about humanity that still prove true today. How many people quote Polonius’s perhaps trite but still insightful comment, “to thine own self be true”? How many are captured by the magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and horrified by the violence in Macbeth? When taught well, it becomes possible for Shakespeare to be more relatable, entertaining, and powerful than confounding.