Shakespeare: To Teach or Not to Teach?

| July 3, 2012

Last night, I went to see As You Like It as part of the Shakespeare in the Park series. I had never read nor seen this play before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it ended up being very funny and enjoyable (though it got out at 11 PM, which was a bit of a struggle after having woken up at the crack of dawn to procure tickets). I was particularly impressed by Lily Raib (Rosalind), who not-so-coincidentally won a Tony recently for Merchant of Venice.

While waiting in line, I considered my lack of much knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays. I remember trudging through Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, and particularly Hamlet in high school. It seemed like a chore for my teachers, which certainly impacted me as a student. I have attempted to avoid reading Shakespeare since. In recent years, I have seen Romeo & Juliet, Merchant of Venice, and now As You Like It and realized that I do enjoy Shakespeare, you just have to account for the fact that it was written to be acted out.

As a future ESL teacher, I have recently been considering my own experiences in schooling to help determine what kind of teacher I want to be. Much of our coursework is geared toward culturally relevant pedagogy, while my extracurricular activities (a.k.a. discussions with teachers I admire and my own experiences) make it clear that one cannot completely discount what those in power view as “classics.” How do you strike this balance? I know in one particular instance (and this is probably not the only example out there), a teacher at a small private school attempted to teach more contemporary literature written by what some might call “minority” writers. She eventually quit her position because she received a lot of pressure from parents and the school board to teach literature that “mattered,” or more “classic” high school literature, like Shakespeare. To be clear, I am not saying Shakespeare is unworthy or irrelevant to teach, but with so much great literature out there, there should be a balance between the classics and contemporary literature in order to provide our students with a range of opportunities.