By Krystal Yang
William Shakespeare, who also goes by the title “Bard of Avon”, is considered the greatest dramatist of all time. With a life shrouded in mystery (some even contest his very existence), people around the world only have his famous plays and poems to scrutinize. His late sixteenth-century works range a variety of genres.
Historic: Romeo and Juliet, Henry VI, Richard II.
Romantic: A Midsummer’s Nights Dream, Merchant of Venice.
Tragedy: King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet.
Just a mention of these iconic titles is enough to make an English teacher bristle– in either admiration or disgust. Indeed, the question “Should we still be teaching Shakespeare 400 years his death?” is widely debated. Although many believe Shakespeare is outdated and often too Western-centric for a diverse cast of students, the complexity of themes in Shakespeare’s works, as well as the language and medium his plays are written in, engage students and make Shakespeare a staple of any high-school English curriculum. Shakespeare remains relevant to students today because of how applicable his texts are. Teachers argue that Shakespeare’s narratives—star-crossed lovers, bitter princes overthrowing their fathers—are not realistic. However, Shakespeare, like all other classical playwrights, is merely a playwright. Students are not using King Lear as a guide to life, but they do learn the importance of maintaining strong familial ties, telling the truth, and caring for others. Shakespeare’s plays open up new intellectual challenges. The complicated language encourages students to, essentially, learn a new language. Furthermore, a play is meant to be performed, and many students find that acting out Shakespeare is not only fun, but a great way to gain a deeper understanding of the works. On the other hand, critics claim that an emphasis on Shakespearean plays in our English curriculum forces students to think in a very Western-centric way, defining literature as only the study of “classic texts.” However, because Shakespeare teaches students the mechanisms of critical thinking, reading Shakespeare could potentially help prepare students to study other literary texts.