Shakespeare in School: Boring or Brilliant?

Over the course of my four years in high school English classes, I had to read many Shakespeare plays. While I knew that Shakespeare was a renowned playwright and poet, I never enjoyed reading his plays in school — I found them confusing and largely irrelevant to modern life. However, in college, after taking a class devoted to reading eight of his plays over the course of nine weeks, I completely changed my mind.

I have come to realize that to truly place myself in Shakespeare’s world, I cannot merely read the characters’ lines in my head. Shakespeare’s plays deserve to be read aloud — for it is impossible to hear the meter and rhythm of the dialogue without the spoken word. Even when I am reading aloud, I often struggle to visualize and keep track of the various characters.

A few of my high school English teachers made the mistake to assign Shakespeare for nightly reading. Particularly with plays as dark and complex as Titus Andronicus or A Merchant of Venice, it is crucial to see the work performed to understand Shakespeare’s world — or at the very least, they should have ensured that we read the plays aloud.

Unlike novels, plays are not designed to create an imaginary world all by themselves. They rely on stage directions and the actors’ interpretation of the lines to bring the tale to life. The meanings of the plays are also completely altered by the performance and the director’s decisions— is the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream tragic or hilarious? Is the Indian boy a boy, or is he a young man? If he is a man, does this alter the source of Oberon’s envy?

Shakespeare’s world is not so different from our own. His characters struggle with issues of race, gender, and sexuality just as our society does today. But it is much harder to empathize with Viola, Rosalind, and Othello when their voices are reduced to words on the page. Shakespeare has the potential to teach young students a great deal, but for his work to truly come alive, we must hear and see his plays before us rather than expect reading to do all of the work.


Join Our Mailing List

    Recent Articles

    How Attending Live Theater Builds Empathy

    Theater as an art form is ancient. The performing arts have been a part of human culture since forever, which isn’t surprising given our never-ending hunger for entertainment and joy. But our need for theater also serves a deeper purpose: it explores the human condition in a way few other mediums are able, and has the power to change attitudes, encourage empathy, and promote prosocial behavior among audience goers. It allows us to open our minds and flourish as people–and that’s a fact supported by science.

    Best Shows to See on Broadway

    If you’re looking for something fun to do in New York, Broadway is definitely at the top of the list! Every season, there are new plays, musicals, and revivals, many of which are deserving of a Tony Award. Here are some of the top plays and musicals to see on Broadway now:

    Denée Benton will be Returning to the Cast of Into the Woods as Cinderella

    Fans of theater and musicals are ecstatic to hear that the Tony Award nominee, Denée Benton, will be returning to her role as Cinderella in the Into the Woods multiverse this November. The actress, 30, will be reprising the role she played earlier this year as a part of New York City Center Encores!

    Film: Does it Make or Break Theatrical Productions?

    Throughout the years, film makers have begun adapting theatrical performances more and more, but how much is too much, and where are the discrepancies? Film adaptations of theatrical productions frequently do them injustice. Post-Production tools change the way the story is told, and the relationship between storyteller and audience member is fundamentally different.

    What’s with Revue Theatre in Buenos Aires?

    Revue Theatre has been at the center of Argentinian culture for over a century. By the end of the 1800s, scandalous Revue Plays were getting canceled due to their flashy satirization of the political and social landscape at the time. More than any other space, Revue Theatre contributed to the visibility of Argentinian tango.

    Movie-musical Dolly Porton’s Mountain Magic Christmas Airs this Holiday Season

    This holiday season, NBC will air Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas, a new movie-musical special. Country music icon Dolly Parton will appear in the hotly anticipated holiday special together with Tom Everett Scott, Ana Gasteyer, and Angel Parker. Willie Nelson, Jimmy Fallon, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus, Zach Williams, and Jimmie Allen are just a few of the brilliant special guests who will be appearing on Mountain Magic Christmas. Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas special is sure to quickly put everyone in the festive spirit with a cast this strong.

    Hey! Are you enjoying NYCTastemakers? Make sure to join our mailing list for NYCTM and never miss the chance to read all of our articles!