The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1013. Wednesday, 8 October 1997.
Date: Tuesday, 7 Oct 1997 15:22:07 +0100
Subject: Classroom Strategies
Dare a "newboy" with some experience of teaching Shakespeare to
disadvantaged young people (including severely dyslexic pupils) in
England venture some opinions about Shakespeare in schools?
Firstly, surely, Shakespeare was a writer of plays. The texts which
survive record stage productions. It is surely quite bizarre to start
studying Shakespeare with the printed page. No-one ever became a
"Baywatch" or an "X-Files" fan by reading the screen plays. Certainly,
for a mature and detailed study, one might well return to the script -
but it is an abnormal place to start.
Secondly Shakespeare's plays are fairly sophisticated and, even as
plays, alien in style to most modern teenagers. Preparatory work is
needed. Just as one would encourage young people to read some modern
verse before tackling the "Faerie Queane", so one ought, surely, to
prepare for a difficult Renaissance (or early-modern) play by seeing
some (later) modern plays.
Thirdly the theatre is primarily a place for recreation and enjoyment,
and not really a place for formal education.
I have two personal insights: I was put off Shakespeare until I was in
my forties by my childhood experience of Shakespeare in school.
Interminable, boring slabs of text, and even more boring (more or less
compulsory) school trips to see Hamlet and Lear at Stratford in the
sixties, seated in the cheapest seats way above and distant from the
stage, did not inspire me with any love for the bard. Eight years ago,
by contrast, I was working with a group of disadvantaged teenagers,
including many with behavioural problems and several with total
dyslexia. We started theatre trips - for recreation. Early trips to
local theatres producing modern comedies and thrillers led to an
enthusiasm for the medium, and soon the students were asking to be taken
to London and Stratford to see Shakespeare. Even then I made very sure
that the plays we saw, in the first instance, were the easier. We
started with The Comedy of Errors.
My advice on classroom strategy is this: Go to the theater, start with
easy modern plays, move on to Shakespeare's Comedies, then try the
tragedies. At this stage - AT THE EARLIEST - consider getting a copy of
the text for the students to look at.