An April 2015 report entitled The Unkindest Cut by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni states, “A mere 4 of . . . 52 colleges and universities require English majors to take a course focused on Shakespeare. Those institutions are Harvard, University of California-Berkeley, U.S. Naval Academy, and Wellesley College.”
Later in the article, ACTA writes, “It used to be that we could count on our colleges and universities to introduce students—in Matthew Arnold’s words—to the best that has been thought and said. This is no longer the case.”
According to Ryan L. Cole of the National Review, “Part of the motivation is economic, as departments pander to their customers with courses on children’s literature, cinema, television, Harry Potter, and vampires. Another part is political, involving academia’s devaluing of Western classics.”
Fortunately, most high schools have not followed the examples of our institutions of higher learning. I’m with them! I believe we should regularly be exposing all age students to Shakespeare.
Here’s my countdown of the top 5 reasons why we should never give up on teaching Shakespeare:
#5 Brain work. If students can successfully read and understand Shakespeare, they can handle almost anything else. Why should we dumb down our high school students with children’s literature—no matter how well written? Let’s sharpen their brains with literature that will challenge them.
“I have good reason to be content, for thank God I can read and perhaps understand Shakespeare to his depths.” ~John Keats~
#4 Word, words, words. Scholars estimate that Shakespeare invented 1700 of our common words. He changed nouns into verbs, changed verbs into adjectives, connected words never before used together, added prefixes and suffixes, and devised completely new words. He also coined expressions that have been used so much they are now considered clichés.
“He was the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul.” ~John Dryden~
#3 Complex characters. Shakespeare showed a thorough understanding of human nature with the characters he created. His heroes express the fears and desires of every thoughtful man. His bold heroines give the likes of Katniss Everdeen a run for her money. We learn more about ourselves from the personalities that people his plays.
“With this same key Shakespeare unlocked his heart’ once more!” ~Robert Browning~
#2 Rich dense language. Few other writers match the beauty of Shakespeare’s language or the depth of the truths he expressed. His soliloquies and monologues, even the speeches crafted for comic relief, are some of the most eloquent every written. His command of language provokes our imaginations and inspires our own written expressions.
“The souls most fed with Shakespeare’s flame still sat unconquered in a ring, remembering him like anything.” ~G. K. Chesterton~
#1 Universal appeal. Shakespeare’s themes still resonate today. His plays delve into the issues of love, loss, treachery, honor, tenderness, anger, despair, jealousy, contempt, fear, courage, and wonder. They raise questions of morality, politics, war, wealth, and death. By exploring what’s dearest to our hearts and most important to our souls, Shakespeare helps us better appreciate life.
“There Shakespeare, on whose forehead climb the crowns o’ the world; oh, eyes sublime with tears and laughter for all time!” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning~
- Cole, Ryan L. “English Majors sans Shakespeare.” National Review (n.d.): n. pag. Web. Apr. 2015.
- The Unkindest Cut: Shakespeare in Exile 2015. American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Apr. 2015. Web.
Renee Ann Smith teaches literature in a Christian high school by day and writes stories by night. She reviews books and shares inspirational posts on her blog Doorkeeper at http://reneeannsmith.com/. You can also find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ReneeAnnSmith.