Shakespeare and Chess


So the other day, I got to go back into the classroom to talk to a bunch of teenagers about why it’s still important to study Shakespeare. I love that question because I’m neither an educator nor a politician (nay, not even a pundit). Nobody’s setting policy based on what I say. All I’ve got is my opinion, and I’m happy to offer it. Here’s what I told them, more or less.

Chess is experiencing something of a resurgence right now, isn’t it? You’ve got Queen’s Gambit on Netflix a few years ago. You’ve got the cheating scandal. I know that all three of my kids play now. I think there are some of you here in the room that play. <nods>

So, here’s the thing. Chess has been around for how many hundreds of years? (I looked it up later — 1500 years.) Basically unchanged, from what I understand. So you can read book after book about the games of the great masters and stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before you.

Sure, it’s hard. There are people that spend their entire lives trying to master it. But at the same time, if somebody who’d never played before sat down at the board next to you and asked to play, you could teach them, right? Or maybe you’re the student sitting across from the teacher.

Chess is played all over the world. (172 countries, my research tells me.) So if you’re traveling, bring your board. Because chess is not bound by language. Think about it. If somebody from another country sat down at the board next to you, someone who didn’t speak your language … you could still play, couldn’t you?

It’s also not bound by age, is it? Because the rules have been the same for generations, that means you can sit down to a game with someone half your age or twice your age. It’s the reason why my children can all Facetime with their grandfather to play.

Chess is a great unifier (ironic, given the US/Russia history, but still). You can spend your life studying it and still learn something new on any given day. It is a gift that you can share wherever you go in the world, without even the obstacles of age or language getting in the way. That’s why chess has been so popular for so long, and why it will continue to be.

Now consider that everything I just said is true of Shakespeare. Shakespeare isn’t bound by time or space. I’ve met strangers in strange lands and bonded over our love of Shakespeare. I sang Shakespeare to my children and plan to do the same for my grandchildren. I hope that my children, and their children, will do the same.

That’s one of a million reasons why Shakespeare makes life better.

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