Plea to the World - Help Kids Discover the Good in Shakespeare!
Those words that every high-school pupil dreads to hear -
"We are studying Shakespeare for your next assignment."
Universal groans, sighs, children slump into desks with their hands buried in their hair. Some cast desperate eyes around the room to the drama kids seated amongst them but even in this group, there lies little hope. Most of the drama/theatre students are casting their brains feverishly to when they memorised one monologue from 'Romeo and Juliet' or had a minor role in 'Midsummer Night's Dream.' Their eyes are wide. Panic is turning them pale. They are having flashbacks to poorly created costumes and stumbling along in iambic pentameter for pages and pages of speech they did not understand.
Horror sets in.
I admit that as a student I was one of the few students rubbing my hands together in glee at this pronouncement. But I was a freak, simply for the reason that I had a good, solid, interesting introduction to the Bard. I was a rare fortunate, and my friends fell into utter disdain for anything remotely related to Shakespeare.
So this is my public service announcement: Save students from the fate of my friends and for the love of everything that is holy, make a person's introduction to Shakespeare interesting!
DO NOT introduce them by just handing out the book. Nope. Never. The text is intimidating, the preamble to most Shakespearean plays is written by a literature buff who was probably weaned on the subtexts of Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear alongside their baby formula and to those who are not thespians, a script is a foreign object from some distant planet.
DO NOT introduce them by playing a tacky, badly-recorded version of a VCR recording of some staged production of the play that was probably originally performed in the 80s. Why is this a good idea? You have a plethora of modern adaptations well-produced and well-performed. Hell, some of the students probably already saw these modern versions and may not have quite understood they were watching Shakespeare. Use this to your advantage!
DO NOT introduce students by getting their classmates to read the dialogue to the whole class. My teacher attempted this and it was one of the most painful experiences of my life - up there with needles and breaking bones. PLEASE. He tried his best to even out the agony by switching my classmates in and out of characters (I distinctly recall a very poor Claudius who got instantly evicted from his role after mere seconds of dialogue in which he mutilated the character's speech with his air traffic controller's monotone voice) but the results were horrendous. Why would you attempt this? It makes no sense!
I hold Shakespeare close to my heart and I understand that he is not everyone's cup of tea. But please, to all those out there that are educators or introducing the text in any form, I implore you to remember the first time you experienced the Bard. We all know that there is a difference between being given a hot cup of tea that might be hard to hang onto at first versus having the boiling tea abruptly thrown into your face.
Okay, the metaphor is a bit much but you get the picture. Please. Do the world a favour - don't ruin Shakespeare for the kids.