Do you remember sitting in class on a hot, sticky day, taking it in turns to read aloud from your paperback edition of The Merchant of Venice or Macbeth or whatever Shakespeare play had been allocated to your curriculum that year?
Do you remember how stimulating and exciting it was to hear his words spoken by your fellow students and how instantly you became engrossed in the story written so long ago? No? … Not how you remember it?
Not a great start really was it? And do you know that the majority of English teachers in school still use this as a first approach? Don’t get me wrong, there are many teachers out there with a real passion for Shakespeare using fun and exciting methods to introduce his work to their students…but some seem to not have the first idea about where to start!
It was heartening and at the same time, somewhat worrying, to be told by a drama student of mine who I had taught since primary school, that her clear understanding and love of Romeo and Juliet which she was studying for GCSE came solely from her experience of drama and studying for her LAMDA exams. She ‘zoned out’ in class from the soulless approach and, like many of us, only woke up when it was her turn to read which she was able to do with clarity and meaning because she had engaged with his plays from such a young age.
A sad reflection on the state school system and its lack of resource, you may think, and you would be right, except that almost identical scenarios have been shared with me by students of both the state and the independent sectors.
The truth is, that:
We don’t start teaching Shakespeare to students early enough
We forget that his plays were not written to be read but to be performed and watched