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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Teaching Shakespeare

I have never questioned whether I should teach Shakespeare but which Shakespeare plays to teach.

I am not happy with the choices made in too many schools. They are Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar. I am not happy about these choices because of the message they send, the types of action they create, and the tragedy of each of them. Romeo and Juliet isn't for children, it is for the adults. It tells the adults, both parents and guidance or spiritual counselors to not impose their mores on the children. In addition, Romeo and Juliet are not two types of children I want my scholars to emulate or even feel sorry for. Hamlet is a loser who at the age of 30 is still a student and surely incapable of being king. If Romeo had lived, he would have grown up to be Hamlet. Again the parents are a main problem in this play and lead to the tragic deaths of their children. Macbeth is a man who is ambitious and allows witches to lead him astray and for him to listen to his ambitious wife. Macbeth is not the kind of man I want my scholars to become. Julius Caesar is also a play about blind ambition. The violence involved in these plays is not the correct message we should be sending to our scholars year after year.

I made the decision to select comedies, plays that involved young love, minor parent child conflict that ends well, education in some form, and great language. The plays I decided to teach were Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Comedy of Errors, Love's Labors Lost, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest. These plays deal beautifully with Honor, Time, and Life in a festival of glorious language as seen in classics passages, puns, and song. All them end well. They all provide a proper denouement to the problems that begin each play. Some of the most beautiful language in Shakespeare comes from these plays. The main characters in these plays are young people close to the age of those scholars in my class. Finally the type of character these plays depict are the examples of life I wish to expose to my scholars and not the characters of the classic tragedy choices too many schools select. They have time enough to learn the tragedies, it is the comedy of life we need to promote. One final point is that I have found these comedies played more than the tragedies so my scholars can see the play. I much prefer my scholars ruminating over "All the world's a stage" and not "To be or not to be." The former promotes life while the latter contemplates ending one's life.

Humor is an important habit of mind and a quality of genius. I am reminded of the classic scene in Singing in the Rain that always makes me laugh to the point of crying is Donald O'Connor's "Make 'em Laugh." The same holds true to how I view the comedies of Shakespeare. I know I am learning so much more when I laugh.

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