When Shakespeare was a kid going to grammar school, a school open to boys only by the way! they learned Latin, Greek and rhetoric, persuasion through logical argument. Students read Latin and Greek writers to learn about the history of ancient Greece and “the glory that was Rome” and this material was translated by them into English or French after many hours of work. I’m glad the school curriculum of the 21 st century has evolved and we no longer spend our days doing boring stuff like that!
Their old-fashioned, subjects that have little relevance in the modern world of the internet and space travel. The question is: shouldn’t we allow our education system to further evolve and file Shakespeare in the same drawer where we’ve stuck Homer, Plato and Ovid? Given the society of North America in the 21 st century, Shakespeare’s relevance is declining with each new technical advance. The purpose of this essay is to prove isn’t it time to address this question head on, even at the risk of causing legions of English teachers to collapse in horror?
Speaking to the world may be the least of the challenges facing those who want the teaching of Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s English is the language as they spoke it 400 years ago. It is as ancient and antiquated and old as the Latin and Greek I spoke about in my introduction. Watch any class of high school students tackle Shakespeare and the first book you’ll see on theredesks is a student guide of notes explaining who characters are, the plot and the themes. Indeed, it is doubtful that the play itself is ever cracked by some students.
How can students in the 21 st century understand any of the great themes raised in these plays if they can’t even understand what some guy is saying? If students must read this stuff, switch it for a modern translation. I would like to write a graphic novel using Shakespeare’s plots, but maybe it’s been done. Consider how this problem is worse for those students whose first language is not even English. If we’re going to combat feelings of alienation we must not cling to cultural icons of a white, Anglo-Saxon culture.
Given the modern, multicultural societies to be found in any Canadian city of to-day, can a writer from “olde England” really claim to have any relevance? High school teachers need further training to examine the important literatures of Africa, Asia or the Muslim world. The succession of Anglo-Saxon monarchs can have little connection with the issues gripping the globe from Africa and the MiddleEast. As members of a global community; we need to be aware of the moral issues facing these cultures if we’re going to talk to them. I think the issue of AIDS and HIV in Africa is one of the most important problems we face.
It is the western literary tradition’s refusal to look beyond Shakespeare that cements western, primarily British, culture as the dominant cultural group and causes other groups, African, Middle Eastern or Asian to exist in a mental cultural ghetto. How will we in the west understand the moral concerns of other cultural or religious groups if we refuse to look beyond Shakespeare? How can Shakespeare speak to the world? The really important argument put forward by those who want to keep Shakespeare in the curriculum is that Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the western literary tradition.
Says who? I think importance is a relative value judgment? Shakespeare’s plays second in Shakespeare’s own mind to his poetry were written to satisfy the political fashions of his time. Why does Macbeth look into the cauldron and see “A show of eight Kings, the last with a glass in his hand”? We are told now it was to impress James the first of England and sixth of Scotland. It was Jame’s interest in the occult that caused the inclusion of the three witches who “look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth, and yet an on’t” who Macbeth consults.
You can’t look at any copy of a Shakespeare play without finding obvious references to the monarchy of his time. Shakespeares’ plays, like any political propaganda found to-day, either concentrates on defending the status quo or attacking the unpopular leadership of an earlier time. So, in conclusion, as you can see I have pretty strong feelings about Shakespeare and his plays. In the 21 st century, spending time with the confusion that is Shakespeare is about as useful as training doctors in the value of bleeding their patients as a means of correcting a problem with the four humours.
By examining the great works of other cultures and religions we can learn about a major part of the world. Through the literature of many different parts of the world they’re concerns will be understandable to us and we’ll show our willingness to meet the rest of the world, not throw forts built of iambic pentameter with the occasional rhyming couplet to securely glue the walls together. If we ignore the future to sort of celebrate the western literary past we’ll have a disaster of global proportions. Works Cited 1. William Shakespeare, Macbeth. Toronto: Longmans Canada. 1965