Shakespeare’s birthday is upon us, and to honor the bard I would like to write down some thoughts about him. I am currently teaching Julius Caesar to my 10th graders and I taught Romeo and Juliet to my 9th graders last year, and the majority of students’ opinions about Shakespeare are negative. I understand why—Shakespeare’s language is terribly confusing. Half the battle is being able to read what he is saying, and once you figure that out, the skill of analyzing his concepts is just as difficult. For a high schooler, that’s a lot of brain power. Heck, for me it takes a lot of brain power. However, the themes buried underneath the Early Modern English are profound and universal. My goal with my students is to get them to start appreciating Shakespeare’s work. It’s a difficult task, but I try new methods every day. I tell them about how he made up hundreds of new words and phrases that are now commonly used in the English language. I tell them about how the stories he wrote were inspiring and beautiful. I try to express my passion so clearly in hopes that some of it will be transferred to them. Yet at the end of each Shakespeare unit, the majority of students still have the same responses: “I don’t get it.” “He’s boring.” “Nothing makes sense.” “Why do we still read Shakespeare?” It’s like someone punches me in the gut every time they say these things.
So I am still exploring ways to help students appreciate good old William. Of course I am always open to suggestions. I’m sure (at least I hope) that Shakespeare will continue to be taught for many years to come, which gives me time to figure out how to express his genius. At the end of the day, this is the thought I leave them with: take away the details, the language, the fluff. Just look at the heart of the story-the message. What is the message Shakespeare is trying to get across? Is it about love? Betrayal? Loyalty? Loss? These themes are universal and timeless, and that is what students will walk away remembering.
I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Romeo and Juliet:
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Romeo and Juliet, this quote was beautiful.
Also…this article came out in the Philadelphia Inquirer the other day and it was written by my adviser in the English department at Gettysburg College. Interesting look at the bard’s language!