Why read Shakespeare?

 

              William Shakespeare                              J.K. Rowling

 

                    Why High Schools should still teach Shakespeare

 After watching my twelve year grandson perform as Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, I remembered how much fun my U.S. Ski Team teammates and I had acting out Shakespeare’s plays while we were snowed in at such races as The Alta Cup in Utah, The Roche Cup in Aspen and even the World Cup in Europe.

 This may sound crazy, but in the 1960’s, lacking technology, we had to find ways to entertain ourselves in the slope-side ski lodges, sometimes for days. At the ripe old age of 18, we all had one experience in common; while in high school, we had read Shakespeare’s plays, often one a year for four years. Traditionally the plays included Romeo and Juliet (Freshman year), Macbeth (Sophomore year), King Lear (Junior Year), and of course, to top off the teenage angst, Hamlet, (Senior year). Each year the reading of the plays grew easier as we became accustomed to the language as well as keen observers of the wit and themes. We also discovered that using the quotations on college essays added depth to our teenage philosophy about life.

 

 On the US Ski Team, sometimes when we traveled, we would bring a few copies of the plays, (fortunately the editions were small) so when the blizzards came, often stranding us in the avalanche-prone lodges, we would raid the lost-and-found for a few appropriate costumes, assign roles, and start a group reading. Talk about building a team spirit; laughing and acting together broke down inhibitions and rivalry. We were one in the moment as we shared the larger-than-life trials of Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Cordelia. (Hence my protagonist’s name Lia in my novel Snow Sanctuary) Naturally, King Lear, wandering the heath during a storm, became one of our favorites:

 

                          Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!

                          Your cataracts and hurricanes, spout (III, ii,1-2)

 

After my ski team experience, I taught English, including Shakespeare, in high school for twenty five years and discovered how the Bard continues to be relevant to each new generation, the plays establishing a universal language not just in America but across the world, a language that transcends generations and cultural differences.

 

Just a little research demonstrated to me that Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, his words, plots, and characters, not only resonate with today’s youth but also can continue warn them about hubris, judgment, deceit, treachery, and humor all the while entertaining them with witches and magical thinking.

 

Incredibly, Shakespeare coined over 1700 English words by changing verbs into nouns (assassination), verbs into adjectives (fashionable), adding prefixes and suffixes (bedazzled) and making up new words (eyeball).

 

So, as high schools struggle to make the four years of education “more relevant,” this is my plea for the teachers to keep the reading of Shakespeare in America’s classrooms for all students, not just the advanced placement scholars.

 

Here are a very few examples that demonstrate how intertwined modern culture is with Shakespeare’s work and why the students will be grateful to be exposed to the plays.

 

1st J.K. Rowling exclaimed, “I absolutely adore Macbeth,” and used the example of the witches’ prophecy for Macbeth about becoming king as a template for Voldemort’s belief in his destiny.

 

2nd The lyrics for the song in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabin, “Something wicked comes this way” comes from the witches’ portent while they are stirring the cauldron in Macbeth, “By pricking my thumbs/ something wicked this way comes.”

 

3rd J. K. Rowling named her heroine in Harry Potter after Hermoine in A Winter’s Tale.

 

4th Finally, check out how many Shakespearean actors were hired to be in the eight films about Harry Potter: Bill Nighy( Rufus Scrimageour) Cieran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore), Guy Henry (Pius Thickness), Richard Harris, the greatest Shakespearean actor of all time (Albes Dumbledore). You can check out the rest.

Don’t you just love Rowling’s character names.

 

5th If Harry Potter doesn’t amuse you, compare the film The Lion King to Hamlet, using the story arc of the proud king Mufasa who is accidentally killed by his evil, ambitious brother Scar, and over time Simba (the son) returns to right the injustice. (Both stories use a ghost of the dead father to call the son to action.) However, in our Disney version, there is a happier resolution in The Lion King.

 

6th Oh, and when the students study astronomy in science class, they will learn that Uranus has 27 moons and many are named for Shakespearean characters: Titanic, Oberon, Puck, Cordelia, Ophelia.

 

7th Or in Language Arts’ class when the students learn about clichés, they will learn that Shakespeare coined such terms as “in a pickle,” “it’s Greek to me,” “hoodwinked,” and “tongue-tied.”

 

8th Yes, there seems to be a constant reinvention of Shakespeare for each generation. I once heard that great literature is writing that can be read during each decade of one’s life, finding new interpretations as one grows older. Certainly, on the ski team we learned this.

 

So, should high schools continue to teach Shakespeare to all students? Absolutely, especially because many colleges no longer require a reading of Shakespeare in their curriculum. I envy every student’s introduction to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and hope they, too, will find some friends who are willing to act out these dramas, maybe even on the top of a mountain during a storm.

 

Shakespeare coined over 1700 English words by changing verbs into nouns (assasination), verbs into adjectives (fashionable), adding prefixes and suffixes (bedazzled) and making up new words (eyeball).

 

So, as high schools struggle to make the four years of education “more relevant,” this is my plea for the teachers to keep the reading of Shakespeare in America’s classrooms for all students, not just the advanced placement scholars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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