Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 17 May 2007

My daughterís English teacher says you canít switch todayís pupils onto Shakespeare. Surely sheís is wrong?

Hillary's Advice

Yes, one respect she is. Because it isnít just todayís pupils. It is schoolchildren down the ages. Who, if they are honest, hasnít endured an interminable English lesson, with classmates mangling Macbeth? Or felt that all those inaccessible thees and thous were as remote from real life as medieval Icelandic?

Shakespeare was a full-blooded dramatist. He wrote to be performed and if he lived today would be dashing off one block-buster filmscript after another. The great wit and insight that we revere him for is a side-product of this great drive towards drama, and was never intended to be pored over by anyone, let alone callow youngsters who donít yet know the first thing about wheels of fire and battalions of sorrow.

Yet take schoolchildren to see Shakespeare played live (and well), and the magic never fails -- as the badly-behaved school party at the Royal Shakespeare Companyís recent brilliant production of The Comedy of Errors showed. Within minutes their restless, noisy behaviour stilled to rapt silence, and at the end they filed out with their eyes glowing.
So all hail Baz Luhrmann and his updated Romeo and Juliet, and the recent, acclaimed multi-language A Midsummer Nightís Dream put on in London, not to mention the RSCís new partnership with the University of Warwick to train actors to teach Shakespeare in schools.

The playís the thing, and the classroom is a hard place for it to flourish. There are, of courses, masses of classroom resources available for all those poor English teachers who have to try, but they often face an uphill battle