Who Do We Blame / Where Do We Start?

Fresh topic, spinning off the Gnomeo related discussions re: the Disnefication of Shakespeare.
I think we all generally agree that we’d like to see more acceptance, familiarity and understanding of Shakespeare in the world around us. We don’t want to hear that he’s hard, or boring, or complex, or irrelevant. We want our kids to approach the subject in school with excitement, not fear. We want to spot a Shakespeare reference in the wild and discover to our great joy that we’re not the only person in the room that understood it. 🙂 Fair enough? Any of those statements untrue?

Ok, next question. Why don’t we have this, and where should we focus our attention in order to fix it? I’m referring here to actual people – you can’t fix a system or an infrastructure unless you can communicate with the people who made it that way in the first place.
I figure there’s at least three logical places to start:
1) Education. I’d say “teachers”, but I don’t think that’s enough – I think many are probably constrained by curriculum requirements, standardized testing, out of date text books, stuff like that. So I’ll make this the broad category of “people who are charged with educating our children.” (NOTE, since I know I’ve got plenty of teachers reading!! I am not intending to suggest that every teacher everywhere is doing it wrong. Hardly. I’m saying, and I hope we’re in general agreement, that there is often an overall attitude toward how and when Shakespeare should be taught, that is perhaps out of date and in need of some overhaul.)
2) Parents. My kids are growing up on Shakespeare because I love it. But what about all the kids out there whose parents hated Shakespeare, and thus have no interest in instilling a love of the subject in their kids? Can we approach them, and enlighten them regarding what they missed? If we’re assuming that Shakespearean education has been somewhat broken for a very long time, we can’t hold it against the parents that they hated Shakespeare in school. We can, however, attempt to fix it.
3) The kids. “Blame” is not the right word here, but it’s a place to start. If you weren’t hanging out on this blog, when would you think to expose kids to Shakespeare? High school? Maybe middle school? Why is that, exactly, because you just trust the educational system and that’s the way it’s done? Why not elementary school? As we address a younger audience we continue to simplify, focusing more on the story and the action and less on the words. So how far back can you take that? Couldn’t I read The Tempest to my 2yr old as a bed time story? What’s the difference between that and Cinderella? If we start by assuming that there are certain kids who simply should not be exposed to Shakespeare, I think we’re doing them a disservice.
There’s no right answer – the only right answer is, obviously, “start everywhere.” What I’m looking for is the chink in the proverbial armor (so to speak). The place where, if we focused enough energy, we’d break through and cause some real change.

5 thoughts on “Who Do We Blame / Where Do We Start?

  1. A good place to start would be, as Cassius mentioned in our Hamlet vid, to get students past the notion that Shakespeare is all about Doublets and Hose. The more one reads shakespeare, the more one learns that (most of) the stories are timeless, and can be viewed with modern lenses and still be appealing. I've seen one too many professors say words to the effect of "This is how Shakespeare/people of his time saw it, and it's the way you should see it as well." This is not the way you want to go if you want students to pay attention to you. Think of Rosalind in As You Like it Act I.3, "A gallant curtle-axe upon my thigh,
    A boar spear in my hand; and- in my heart
    Lie there what hidden woman's fear there will-
    We'll have a swashing and a martial outside,
    As many other mannish cowards have
    That do outface it with their semblances." Now, obviously, in Shakespeare's time, this was seen as her trying too hard to pretend to be male, as these were archaic weapons. However, see it with modern lenses and you realize that she's more or less saying that if a guy came up to her with an M16A1 with an M203 attachment, she'd hand him his rear even if she's armed only with a bronze spear and a wooden shield. Two different views, but they STILL work for the story. Again, most of Shakespeare's works are timeless, and if Professors can let go of trying to stringently teach Shakespeare's works as untouchable antiques and more like living art forms much like the English language itself, then we've got a good place to start.

  2. As a secondary school teacher I think a big issue is the play choices we make. So many people start with Macbeth and I'm not really sure why! Currently fighting this particular battle….

    Romeo and Juliet is the one they're most likely to know, so at least you have that initial interest of having some idea of the story. Some of the comedies are likely better when they're younger – they might not get all the puns, but they ind a fairy falling in love with a man/donkey hilarious, and that's half the battle.

    I also don't really know why schools won't revisit plays – it's like they won't teach R&J when younger because they want to study it for gcse, not understanding that you can get something totally different out of it next time.

    Then again, I had a group of 13 year olds applaud Macbeth (the RSC/BBC 2010 version) this afternoon!

  3. I read your posts and I feel that I have created something kind of in line with that of which you speak. It's basically an innovation on the works of The Bard, this being the first episode I'll attach the link. I'm not trying to solicit anything, I just think that true fans might get a smile out of this. It's titled "Shakespeare on a Stick". I hope you enjoy and if so, please tell your friends 🙂 Sincerely, Josh brown

  4. I think the basic stories should be taught in elementary school. There are some great versions out there with the basic plots, and if they are well taught, the kids will grow up liking the stories by this Shakespeare guy and be ready for the language in high school.

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