It's not as if Shakespeare is the end-all be-all though, sitcoms tracing their roots back to it are tracing their roots to the sitcoms and soap operas of the 16th century, IIRC, the entertainment for the commoner. Shakespeare is not the only material out there that's foundational, it's lazy to rely solely on it.I think the fact that the lowliest sitcom can trace its roots to Shakespeare answers your question. Shakespeare is important because it is a foundation for so many other works down through the centuries since his time. He also coined or made popular many phrases, some of which are still common today - http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/phrases-sayings-shakespeare.html. It is no wonder that he comes up first in a Google search. Certainly there are plenty of works from plenty of other authors that can and should be studied, but Shakespeare is definitely something that everyone should have a basic knowledge of.
A lot of those phrases are ones I'm only familiar with from Shakespeare, I'd say at least 80% are not what I'd consider common.
I think we read Hamlet in 7th grade or 8th grade and Romeo and Juliet possibly in that same era as well. I don't remember if those were AP or regular classes though, I was in both due to moving from district to district.When I was in high school, we read Romeo and Juliet in 10th grade, Julius Caesar in 11th grade, and Macbeth in 12th grade. We may have read some of the poetry, but I don't recall. I remember reading Hamlet in college (and I think Romeo and Juliet again).
That actually was kind of my point though, our educational system puts a lot of stress on Shakespeare as the foundation of English Literature, yet our world is filled with great literature such as those you've cited. TOS Star Trek had a lot of Shakespeare in it as well, but that was because it was handled from people who respected the stage - both in front of and behind the camera.I always found it interesting to read something and then realize that something else I was familiar with came from it. For instance, I realized where those cartoons I watched as a kid got the "Lenny" and "George" characterizations from from I read Of Mice and Men. Sometimes I may not have read the source material, but I am familiar enough with it to know that Star Trek II had elements of Moby Dick, while Star Trek VI had elements of Shakespeare in it. Perhaps that is a good way to introduce Shakespeare to people. Start by showing a modern adaptation of it, and then have them read the original. That is sort of what the book this thread is about is doing. We start with a modern film we are familiar with, and then we read the Shakespearean version. However, Shakespeare did not write Star Wars, though there could be things in Star Wars that have roots in Shakespeare. So, it all comes full circle.
But that's not what this book is doing IMO, it's not adapting Shakespeare or Shakespearean theater into a modern tale, it is the opposite, it is taking an outside material created without significant input from The Bard and shoehorning that material into Ye Olde Shakespearean style, m'lord. It is a mental exercise in copycatting IMO, it's saying "look how clever I am" without any actual merit, it's just adapting one thing to fit another.
Very true, experiencing the material as intended is so much more useful than reading it on a page and writing about it. Not every student can act though, I suppose, but combining creative arts with foundational literature seems like a much healthier way to educate since it engages in so many ways.Problem with Shakespeare is that he should be performed, not read. An awful lot is lost on the page, even if you have no problem following the language.
We had Roman history in the LAUSD in elementary school, like 4th grade, but it was very much surface fluff. The amount of high school history class not actually taught is astounding though, I remember my jr high history book was only about half finished by the time we graduated.Also, unfortunately, we're taught Shakespeare at a point where most of us aren't mature enough to handle it. It seems pretty standard across the nation that ninth grade is Romeo and Juliet (though most ninth graders won't see how stupid the two are and think it's a great romance), Julius Caesar is tenth (without, oh, any Roman history to supply any context at all), Macbeth is eleventh (the only one so far that's even remotely appropriate), and twelfth is Hamlet (and maybe King Lear as well for AP). Kids tend to remember Hamlet the best. Why? Because there's an excellent, if condensed, film version starring Mel Gibson (and an even better one with Kenneth Branagh, as well as an older but still good version with Lawrence Olivier). But Macbeth and Hamlet, I've seen both performed many times, and they rank highly in my esteem.
As for Hamlet, Mel Gibson actually came to our high school and talked with students, shot some corresponding material at the school during the run-up to the movie's release, like 6 months ahead of time. We already knew the play on page and I think were shown some if not all of Lawrence Olivier's Hamlet, but when we finally got to see the movie it really connected for the first time. Olivier's Hamlet I remember going over like a lead balloon, it was in black and white, it was unbelievably stagey which made it unapproachable to us. When we saw Gibson's Hamlet, a lot of character motivations came together and made sense.
Your point is right on the money, this content is shoved down our throats when we're simply not equipped to understand its meaning. It appalls me to see teens talk about Romeo & Juliet as a great romance and not recognize the stupidity, although partly that's because of how much it's entered the zeitgeist over the last century, I think.In tenth grade, we had to read Julius Caesar and memorize Marc Antony's speech. It meant nothing to me at the time. Today, I recognize it as a play by possibly the greatest English writer of all time (I'd be willing to make the argument in favor of Milton or a few others), but, even with me somewhat accidentally discovering how awesome Roman history is, the play doesn't hold any significance for me. I memorized the passage without really understanding it, and it was never explained to the class. Now, I'm more concerned with the conscious decision Shakespeare made to include historical inaccuracies in order to allude to other events his original audience would be more familiar with.
BTW, your "the greatest English writer of all time" reminded me of what mediocre American fiction we were taught in school. I think I remember basically just Catcher in the Rye, Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn, and Johnny Tremain - that's it? That's what we want kids to take away from American literature? We try to force them to revere English lit and we either banish or censor a lot American lit from them, and what else is there is too dense to latch on as anything other than a miserable chore, it's shocking when you really think about it.
Oh man, we haaaaated seeing plays in school, whether in person or on the TV. Something about watching others interpret ideas just didn't work for our teenage brains.By contrast, every year the English classes had field trips to see whatever Shakespeare play was being performed by a local company. The same year, I saw A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was an excellent performance. And, despite that not usually being considered Shakespeare's best, it's one of my favorites still. All the Shakespeare plays I love, I love because I've seen great performances of them. I still can't even really get into King Lear because the only time I've seen it was in a dedicated Shakespeare class in college where the professor only showed the BBC versions, and the BBC King Lear is quite awful. I know theoretically that it's on par with Hamlet as Shakespeare's best in the eyes of most scholars, but I prefer Midsummer Night's Dream or one of the cross-dressing comedies (which again, not coincidentally, I've seen performed well).
Why is the style so important though? Why is recognizing Shakespeare a useful tool, real or fake'd? Yeah, extra apostrophe, I did it!This, this, my friends, is why. This thread, this discussion, this... learning.
It's a shared context. People know Shakespeare. They may not (in fact, likely not) like Shakespeare. They may not really understand it (without the context and background of which Chux wrote).
But there is an awareness of the style, of the word choice and word play, of its significance.
And if thou canst use the skills to decode it, and perhaps even duplicate and USE it elsewhere, thou hast learn'd.
That is the question, answered.
With an additional, unnecessary comma inserted for, effect.
Anyway, my question still stands, what is the VALUE in this learning that places it above all else in what we consider proper education? Beyond pop culture references like those found in Gilligan's Island and even West Side Story (I now don't remember if they showed that to us in English or in Music Appreciation class), I mean real learning value.
Also, notice how nobody is talking about the sonnets... funny thing, that.
"Just read and discuss the play in the classroom" is how I remember the majority being taught, not just my generation but previous ones told me the same as well. And I think there is a significant alienation to Shakespeare and reading in general which could very well be traced to that mindset, does that not do far more damage than good to our society? The way Shakespeare is taught in this country seems more destructive to society than useful.Performance is critical to acquiring any play, particularly with language as aged as Shakespeare, since they were intended to be experienced, not read. As such, assigning students to "just read the play" is a recipe not only for failure, but, even worse, for possibly permanently alienating the student from Shakespeare forever. I have the Arkangel box set of all his plays on CD performed by the some of the finest actors of the last fifty years. The way I teach Shakespeare is by giving the kids a scavenger hunt of about 30 items I developed that they complete online (a day in the school library), with prizes and points for all who correctly finish - it rarely gets finished in class time, which is my goal - keep them thinking about it on their own when they leave. The next day we go over what everyone found, where essentially the students give the opening lecture on Shakespeare, his life, his influences, and his influence. I designed it like this because nearly every English teacher I've known really can't help but pontificate on the wonders of Shakespeare and after years of these pronouncements, I think they sort of amalgamate the collection of excited lectures they've given in a stew that can go over kids' heads, flipping the off switch as it passes. My meager method is predicated on making sure the students are the stars of the show, not the instructor. Once they've given the opening lecture on Shakespeare, we fill in some background information on the play to be studied to give them context (you're so right, Chux) and locate them within the story. Then, I hit play on the cd player, as they follow along in their own copies, annotating as necessary. This way, they hear what the words are supposed to sound and feel like. For the first three acts, I frequently hit pause and go over aspects of the language, both figurative and literal in the quest to isolate imagery and symbolism, and the plot, while checking for comprehension. By the fourth and fifth acts, when I hit pause, I don't go over anything, I just hit pause and ask why did I pause it. I scaffolded them for the first three acts, now it's their turn to discuss. It hasn't failed yet; the kids are so into the story (and, really, those stories are easy to hook kids into, if you know how), that many of them are anxious to answer just so I'll hit play again. Afterwards, come the culminating assignments for the units that the plays were a part of. For example, in the unit I use Macbeth and Hamlet with (I call it Leaders, Followers, and Persuasive Writing), I give them a choice (every culminating assignment has a choice within certain parameters to make sure that students use writing) of orally reciting a speech and then giving a visual (multimedia, Powerpoint, Prezi, Keynote) analysis of why it was so persuasive or writing an essay on the following prompt: Which character from Macbeth or Hamlet would Machiavelli choose to mentor and why? The students must establish why Machiavelli, whom we'd read from earlier in the unit, would not want to mentor the others. Here, students must write persuasively, synthesize multiple sources, and defend their positions. This is far from being the best way, just my way of getting Shakespeare into the class for about two weeks.
It sounds like your students have a teacher that is engaging them rather than pontification. I wouldn't say our teachers were pontificating most of the time, but they weren't able to really engage either, it'd end up in the middle - trying to coax students to read a verse and then explain back to the rest of the class its meaning, only to get students sound bored trying to figure out the language and then the contextual meanings and regurgitate enough to warrant a passing grade. Let me ask you, how much of your curriculum is Shakespeare? (You said 2 weeks' time, but I guess I'm asking more percentage.) How much Shakespearean foundation do you expect your students to have before they enter your class? I remember Shakespeare was a very significant portion of the English classes in every level of school, hence I'm arguing from the point of it being a major portion of our various grades' curricula.
I guess I'm concerned because it sounds like you have balance but recognize the majority of teachers don't, and also you sound like an advanced-class teacher with students who have been given that leg up to grasp your style easily, unlike the regular and remedial students who get the short end of the education stick and grow up to hate school, failing to recognize that there is a world of literature beyond the trauma they feel when they remember suffering through English classes - and nothing instills more suffering in those people than the idea of Shakespeare, almost to a Pavlovian response.All the plays are fun to teach, mainly because it's fun to watch the students become acquainted with dense material that many came in disliking merely because the author's name inspired terror within them, for which I partially blame other teachers. The high school plays, as Chux pointed out, are pretty standard. R&J is about lust on the rebound. Romeo has just broken up with Rosaline at the beginning of the play and is ripe to transfer those feelings to the next available girl. Juliet dislikes her parents, as so many young girls do, and is immediately attracted to the bad boy, bad only in that he's a member of a rival family. Kids are often very interested in relationships and this far-from-being-a-love-story play is full of commentary on the universality of the human experience regardless of time and place. Julius Caesar is very much about a gang that wants to depose its boss. It starts out with gang members tagging the walls of Rome and later has the characters take turns persuading each other, escalating to turf war. Hamlet is about a boy who doesn't want to do what he's told he's supposed to do. He's comes from a broken home, can't find his footing in the world, has a girlfriend who he feels can't understand him, in short the kind of situation many students are in. Granted these are gross oversimplifications of the stories, but they demonstrate the timeless appeal of the content. And that content has inspired so much other content that has come afterwards. That content has inspired creativity. Creativity that is just as vital to humanity as science and technology, both of which thrive through the infusion of creativity into it. Shakespeare was not the first domino in the sequence and possibly not the biggest, but he was certainly one that tipped over many others.