The monotone voice is mine. The stumbling sentences, mumbled.
My first experience with Shakespeare.
My English teachers at High School tried hard. They really did. They would allocate speaking roles. The next day the lead would be away. Another round of allocating some one in the lead would drop someone else it to. The next day, they too would be absent. This would begin a pattern. There would be an absolute struggle of a class reading from the script aloud.
Why should Shakespeare be compulsory?
Is the only reason we study Shakespeare is because we have to?
The simple beauty of the language? The insight in humanity? The profound poetic power? The provocative and perceptive use of character? The representation of humans in Shakespeare is timeless, right?
Then, why make it compulsory? The quality of a Shakespearean play is abundant. In my opinion it should not be compulsory. The subjective quality of his drama and poetry is worthy of study as it is provocative and evocative. If education can be boiled now to one thing, it is to challenge. There are many other writers, novelists, poets, film makers…that will challenge young people.
Shakespeare’s plays are relevant in the 21st century, so much that there is no need to make it compulsory.
The first thing I reinforce when approaching Shakespeare: it was written to be preformed. It is not a stagnant text, instead, it is meant to be three dimensional, an experience of the mind, the eyes and ears. It is multisensory. The words must be made to come alive.
For over a decade Shakespeare has been a compulsory part of Stage Five (years 9 and 10) English. 14 to 16 years olds must study Shakespeare. Why? Why is Shakespeare revered above all other writers? What impact does this have on how Shakespeare is taught in year 7 and 8 and later, in year 11 and 12?
All students must study English. In my region in 2012 4162 students selected Advanced or Standard English. About 38% selected Advance English.
At the highest level of secondary literature studies there are still five Shakespearean plays listed as options. You must study a Shakespeare if you study the Advanced course.
In the Common Content Area of Study, ‘Belonging’, As You Like It, is an option. While in other sections of the Advanced Course King Richard III, Hamlet and Julius Caesar are options. While the ultimate English literature course available in NSW, Extension English has one: Twelfth Night.
The first issue here is if you select As You Like It, effectively your students will compose a response based upon the script and other related texts. This will be worth 15 marks. The other options, a comparative question for Richard III (20 marks), a critical study of Hamlet (20 marks) and JC as the basis of a response with other related texts (20 marks). The position of Twelfth Night is also within a grander idea of ‘Language and Gender’, again allowing students to respond to the Shakespearean script and other texts. Depending on your students, 5 less marks for a question on Shakespeare could be a big difference. Effectively, four out of the five Shakespearean dramas veer away from a ‘traditional’ extended critique of the play. Yes, you still must ‘know’ the text, but within the well defined descriptors prepared by the Board. How might this effect how to study Shakespearean drama?
Next post: Teaching Shakespeare in years 7 and 8…