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Lee Jamieson

Why You Shouldn’t Teach Shakespeare!

By September 1, 2010

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A while ago, Mansoor Alam posted a comment on our Top Tips for Shakespeare Teachers page suggesting that Shakespeare shouldn't always be taught - rather, the teacher's role is to guide students towards appreciation.

Here's the comment:

Shakespeare should only sometimes be taught! The students should be given maximum opportunity to "know" and "sense" Shakespeare for themselves - the teacher should only help them achieve this goal. Shakespeare can never really be taught!

I think this is great advice ... and something that teachers preparing for the new academic year should take on board. The best way to appreciate Shakespeare is to fall in love with the poetry, the rhythm and the texture of the text - and that's not easy to achieve with "Chalk and Talk!"

Do you have any advice for fellow teachers preparing for the new term? If so, leave a comment on our Top Tips for Shakespeare Teachers page.

In the meantime, Happy New Term!


September 1, 2010 at 10:44 am
(1) Ehren Ziegler says:

In my experience, forcing kids to learn about Shakespeare never really works- but they will take to it when allowed to discover how it relates to them- Anti-authority, the need to be seen and heard, unstable emotions… these are all themes found in Shakespeare’s work, and very much part of a young students daily life in one form or another. When you key in to what he/she is experiencing, and highlight it in Shakespeare, then you have a good chance to hook them. I’ve seen teachers have great results starting with the action, the gore, the humor, the childish (or naughty)… and once the students are hooked, they are much more receptive to the more complex and visceral ideas.
Good luck!

September 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm
(2) Mark says:

A lot of people will tell you to encourage the children to treat the poetry as prose. That, they say, will help them grasp the difficult language. I couldn’t disagree more. Let them feel the rhythm. Shakespeare didn’t make many mistakes, and if you actually take the pause at the end of the line, Shakespeare’s language becomes so much clearer. Try it with a kid and see what happens. You’d be surprised.

September 1, 2010 at 1:03 pm
(3) JaneGS says:

My three kids have been attending Shakespeare plays every summer since they were about ten. Two of them love Shakespeare, act in their high school productions, watch videos of the plays on their own, etc., and the third considers it child abuse.

Before every play we attended, I gave them a verbal synopsis and stuff to watch for (i.e., controversial elements that different directors handle differently). In school, they have been lucky enough to have teachers who took the time to give them context, explained archaic words and customs.

I disagree that kids should just be allowed to relish in the poetry–for most, it’s gibberish without some explanation and “teaching” and they can easily tune it out and daydream (or text) the time away if not given the tools to help them understand it.

September 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm
(4) G.Robin Smith says:

“You shouldn’t teach Shakespeare” is an interesting line. Actors might ask (looking for the motivation) “Do they mean: ‘you should never, under any circumstances, allow Shakespeare to be exposed to students’? Or perhaps they mean: ‘Shakespeare should not be taught academically, only spiritually’? Or do they mean: ‘Shakespeare is too hard, too mysterious, too shrouded to understand. It is to just be whiffed at, held aloft like a prism and whatever the patterns mean to you, that’s beautiful, man’?
Would those people suggest we should not teach Mathematics, Wave Dynamics or about Black Holes??? What about Music, the Classics, Architecture??? They are also beautiful and mysterious and not fully understood… but should they not be taught just because they are slow to give up their secrets?
Questions like these strike me as just something to cause a stir, and not seriously meant. The question should be a more practical/useful one: ‘What are great ways to have people learn about Shakespeare and enjoy his works more?’
My short answer to that is: As interactively as possible. Use every positive means to get the student to use the material and own it. Learn to write a sonnet, a Shakespearean-style play, continue a scene from where Shakespeare left it off, have characters interact with other characters from his other plays and write out the new scene… This is how I study Shakespeare and how I teach it.

More anon, G.Robin Smith

September 2, 2010 at 1:26 am
(5) Emm says:

As a lover of Shakespeare since the sixth grade, let me begin by admitting that to a certain extent one must let the students come to the material, not thrust it upon them. I can’t count the number of horrifying classroom experiences I have had surrounding Shakespeare lessons–but the worst is probably a tie between reading the entirety of Macbeth aloud (without looking at the rhythm, imagery, etc. at all) during high school, and between being asked to write three-sentence plot summaries of the plays (plays which we didn’t even look at inside or outside of class, mind you) in a college course. When teachers/professors/the world finally understands that it’s not even mostly about the STORYLINE, but rather the WORDS, terrible misconceptions will be perpetuated. Take it from a second year university student.

September 8, 2010 at 11:44 am
(6) antony says:

Shakespeare wrote fro the ear
His audience was illiterate -could not read
The sounds of Shakespeare open the door for the young student
Work through the sonnets and feel the gushings of sound the energy the imagery the emotions the rhythm
Ask the student to explore different places to pause and hear the subtle inflection changes
Ignore the grammarians’ punctuation [Shakespeare was dead seven years before his works were punctuated by others] and ask the student to consider the exercise as a sculpture where the artist allows the instincts to guide the art work
Thus engaged the student will hook up with more Shakespeare and the beginning of that journey will offer much promise

September 8, 2010 at 8:10 pm
(7) Robert M. Cerello says:

I mastered Elizabethan rhetoric for my own creative purposes–in a world of minds who can’t for the most part master verb uses or write a coherent sentence…As a poet, I love poetry–but not taught at gunpoint. As a playwright, I love theater–but not as a burdensome and undefined duty. And I respect teaching–but only as part of an “education”–categorical training on how to think and then aa a further personal expansion upon some common constitutional responsibilities, choices and interpersonal limited partnership agreements.
As much as I love Shakespearean verse, sonnets, prose and plays, I have no wish to see them as part of a postmodernist real-world-hating totalitarian exercise in required-at-gunpoint suffering either.
Thank you all for your reinforcement of the individual idea of thinking and of desired Shakespearean study. Apparently, no one here wants to be a slave any more than I do–nor have others become so. On that basis, we can all agree to respect Shakespearean works and their study…

September 9, 2010 at 12:02 am
(8) bilgewater says:

Today’s teachers can utilize a multimedia approach,and I would do this for several reasons.
First,many students are reading on at least a two grade deficit level and need video and especially audio tapes.
Second,most teachers want to take over the role of the expert annotator.They should use and encourage the purchase of the wonderful Washington Square editions of the New Folger Library editions which give the history of the play,a good summation of the plot,and notes opposite the text.
Students who have been to Sunday School or Temple understand the concept of commentary,and they can connect the dots.
Third, this translation of the text is very important to open the door to the readers and watchers of the plays.For one thing it teaches the students language evolves and grows.Many students think their generation invented words to outfox their parents,it helps them to understand Shakespeare literally shook up the language and played with it like they do.
Other cultures have literary,artistic,and musical standards created by great works,English has Shakespeare,Milton,the King James Bible.

September 9, 2010 at 10:08 am
(9) Debbie Movelle says:

I teach Shakespeare to my 4th and 5th grade gifted students every year. We research the life and times of Shakespeare and they learn about the plague, Queen Elizabeth, clothing, food, difference in social classes, weapons, punishment,etc. We do either The Tempest or Midsummer and by the end of the semester they hold the gift of memorized lines and a love of Shakespeare many of their parents have never experienced. It is all how you go about it. I agree, don’t teach it, really experience it!

September 16, 2010 at 11:03 pm
(10) Mir Quasem says:

“Why you(myself) shouldn’t teach Shakespeare” is the topic (question) . Prior to such an introduction, a question should have been furnished as “Do you teach Shakespeare”? In all countries with English as first or second language the answer to latter one will be yes- a slight/scarce/ negligible deviation may be there. The introductory. question may cause alarm among teachers and guardians to ponder whether teaching Shakespeare is an offence. or it will lead to some moral turpitude.
Shakespeare was neither a teacher of a particular school nor did he insist any one to read his dramas or poems/sonnets. But gems of treasure lying with his works make people to read and teach.
My humble submission is that pupil in school should not be deprived of acquiringlegitimate knowledge, initially which requires teaching.. Schools have different tiers/steps . If literature/language is compulsory in Post Graduation and Graduation; study on Shakespeare is a must. Most Countries with English as a second language adopted English as a compulsory subject in Higher Secondary and downwards. Different chapters of Shakespearean dramas & Sonnets should be included in Higher Secondary and Secondary standard. Concerned teachers may accommodate to obtain training on Shakespearean language. In middle class, abridged version e.g. “Lambs Tales from Shakespeare” should be included t.. Pupil are frequently referred to Shakespeare during their studies on the poets/writers of state(First) language. A sonnet composed by a state language poet ,included in the syllabus –demands to ascertain whether it is of Petrarchean type or Shakespearean type. Hence Shakespeare is always in the reference . If I am to refer Shakespeare, I must make him acquainted with my students properly- which requires proper teaching .
We are to bear in mind that if we want pupil to understand and enjoy Shakespeare we should teach – when they will practice it we may guide.

September 22, 2010 at 4:26 pm
(11) Mary says:

The plays are meant to be seen, not necessarily to be read. Try to see them by a good company—esp a British one. They speak faster and everything moves along at a normal pace. Speaking Shakespeare slowly will make kids bored.
See the plays; don’t read them -if at all possible.

September 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm
(12) Alex Wells says:

A good way to introduce young people to Shakespeare is to show them Franco Zeffirelli’s film version of “Romeo and Juliet.” I think it is beautifully spoken and easy to understand.

I agree that reading Shakespeare is not always that great an experience until the language becomes more familiar. But if one is “teaching” it to young people, then I’d agree that making the students memorize a sonnet, scene or monologue is very important. Memorization is the best way to really understand him. As an actor, I’ve learned over the years how his text holds many clues about how to play the scene.

January 18, 2011 at 4:40 pm
(13) Jesus Naputi says:

I disagree. Not teaching the mechanics, and the arrangements of English language to form that unique beauty and texture Shakespeare did is entirely missing the point.

June 26, 2013 at 5:30 am
(14) boob dylan says:

no jesus no

June 26, 2013 at 5:37 am
(15) shadow says:


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