The Blog

A Shakespearean Education

For non-English literature prodigies, whom Shakespeare was forced upon in secondary school, there should be some thought put in for making room for a wider range of texts who might appeal to a modern age of students. When Shakespeare's work is so deeply embedded in our culture, they've got nothing to worry about, he's sure to get to us anyway.

With academics still seething over accusations of Shakespeare's authorship and the release of Anonymous only adding to the worry that the whole of Hollywood will believe them, a pause is given to question how important the works of Shakespeare truly are to a good education.

Studying some of Shakespeare's works is compulsory in schools across Britain, giving his plays an immediate status of importance and significance in terms of learning about playwrights and storytellers in general, making us wonder why R&J and Hamlet have to be set texts for school pupils?

When the first folio was published in 1623, Ben Johnson claimed he was "Not of an age. But for all time." If this was to be true then Shakespeare's plays would have to be as contemporary for modern audiences as they were for the Elizabethans. Therefore this would take the dedication of directors, producers and actors of each century to recreate Shakespeare's voice to speak to modern ears. The plays he wrote represent the careers of not just one man but thousands and he is the creator of all that followed him, placing him firmly as an iconic figure in English literary supremacy.

However, my question still remains as to whether we should still expect the next generations of GCSE/A Level and university students who study English Literature to compulsively dedicate a primary part of their education to Shakespeare's plays? The more space that opens up between his first writings and education today, means elevating Shakespeare as the playwright of all time could be detrimental to more recent discoveries of great works of literature and theatre.

It is likely that everyone will come into contact with Shakespeare at length in their lifetime, and if this is first introduced at a young age in secondary school or through school trips to the globe then students can still have a chance to pursue his works. However, by making Romeo and Juliet,Macbeth and King Lear compulsory texts makes one question whether exam boards are using the great reputation of Shakespeare unscrupulously and with little imagination to set different authors who the students might not come into contact with other than in school.

This year, in my English department at Warwick University, Shakespeare and Selected Dramatists of His Time became an optional module for the first time. For the majority this was seen as a very necessary and wise change, giving students a much wider choice of how to play out their degree without being dictated to. Unsurprisingly this module is still one of the most popular in the department, for not many would disagree that Shakespeare is a writer for all time.

However, for non-English literature prodigies, whom Shakespeare was forced upon in secondary school, there should be some thought put in for making room for a wider range of texts who might appeal to a modern age of students. When Shakespeare's work is so deeply embedded in our culture, they've got nothing to worry about, he's sure to get to us anyway.