Sunday, June 24, 2007

Essential Question

Why is it so important for high school students to study Shakespeare in particular? I mean, it's not just one work or a few of his works, it's a major work as a significant focus of study EVERY YEAR, in most high schools.

Yes, I agree that Shakespeare was an amazing writer. But there are a lot of other great works out there - many of them intended for the audience to read, which is essential for analysis of the language (at least at this point), but not a play's true medium.

Why does Shakespeare, as an author, get as sacred a place in English literature as... well, as the authors of the four gospels - COMBINED - get in the Christian canon?! I mean, with them, the answer seems pretty clear: they tell the story of the person without whom Christianity wouldn't exist.

How on earth does Shakespeare manage to be ranked so far above everything else?

I think imonna cross-post this over at the UbD educators wiki discussion board. Join us! (Resistance is futile, and all that... ;)


Dana said...

Have you read Harold Bloom's book Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human? I admit to not finishing it, and Bloom can be rather close-minded about the Western canon, but his thesis is that no writer really came as close as Shakespeare has to writing about what it means to be human than Shakespeare has. His use of language hasn't been duplicated. His writing has permeated our culture to the extent that familiarity makes one more well-rounded culturally. Do I think we alway teach the right plays in high school? That's a different question entirely. If I had my druthers, I'd do something besides Julius Caesar. It doesn't grab me, really. I love teaching Shakespeare. I find him engaging both for me and the students, and let's face it, there is no dearth of ideas out there, so usually you don't have to reinvent the wheel.

Dana said...

Yeah, I have to admit, our 10th grade gets assigned a novel set that I wish I could steal from (like Lord of the Flies, 1984, Fahrenheit 451), but they're also stuck with Caesar. I'd way rather do Othello.

Anyway, I'm working through the filter and I got firmly STUCK at "What couldn't we do if we didn't understand Romeo and Juliet?" and have been unable to extricate my thoughts. I've kind of moved on and filled in some other places, but... I can't think of anything that's exclusive to R&J.

Is it enough to say "Romeo and Juliet provides some of the best examples for things we should understand, like character development, internal and external conflict, etc."? I mean, even though students can learn about pretty much anything we'd get from R&J in some other great work.

Or am I missing some important insight?

mrschili said...

I wrote a paper about this - why we read so much Shakespeare - as a grad student. When I get back from my vacation, I'll see if I can dig it out and send it to you, if you're interested.

Clix said...

Hey, wow, thanks!

Clay Burell said...

While I think the Bible (and the Koran and the Gita and a few of the Buddha's sutras) are things students should have an understanding of, I can't see any literary equivalence between the Gospels and Shakespeare.

Four different guys with four very different backgrounds (and literary styles) wrote the canonical gospels (and why stop there, anyway, when the Gnotic gospels shed so much interesting light on other ways of seeing orthodox Catholicism or, same thing almost, Protestantism?). Mark's Gospel is skeletal, Matthew's is working class, Luke's is a gentile doctor's, and John's is a different bird altogether.

Which translation would you choose for literary value? Why?

Which translation comes even close to Shakespeare's work on his most off day?

Especially when Seneca, for example, wrote similar moral sermons that, for literary quality, blow things like the Sermon on the Mount out of the water.

Ecclesiastes, some Psalms, and the Song of Solomon, and Job: I can see treating those as literature. The Hebrew Tanach (what Christians annoy the Jews by calling the "Old" Testament) has quite a few titles with literary merit.

Why not Shakespeare, though?

Midsummer Night's Dream is a delight. Hamlet, Othello, and the divine Lear - the champagne of literature - what's higher, richer, or more enjoyable than them?

The Tour Marm said...

I'm sorry you're questioning the merit of Shakespeare.

He had a deep understanding of human nature, the classics, history, and politics. His poetry is sublime.

My parents insisted that I read Shakespeare even before it was introduced in the classroom.

I remember we studied him in middle school and high school. We were required to know at least one tragedy, history, and comedy as well as some of the sonnets.

Hamlet, Henry V, and A Comedy of Errors, were taught in one semester at my high school. Most of us also read Macbeth, Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Julius Caesar. Romeo and Juliet was studied in middle school.

My life is richer because of this.

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