As much as I’m an advocate for the arts, there were many years that I was afraid of Shakespeare. All those thous and thees freaked me out. I had to choose between vocal and acting for my high school major, and I confess, part of my decision was based on the fact that I was afraid of having to do a monologue by the Bard.
I used to produce for a local theatre company, and we were getting ready to do Hamlet. I joked, “it’s just Shakespeare.” My director said, “yes, it is just Shakespeare.”
That production of Hamlet opened my eyes to what Shakespeare was all about: the human condition. Shakespeare’s work is about love, fear, greed, insecurity, lust, ambition, and the rest of the most passionate emotions that make us human and, if we’re lucky, humane.
Since we all feel most of these emotions, or at least encounter them, why is it important for students to study Shakespeare? The key to emotion is not being able to recognize them, but how to manage them.
Most of the characters in Shakespeare’s plays get it wrong, but that doesn’t mean that there are no lessons learned. It could be a great springboard for conversations on what different choices could’ve been made. It could be an opportunity to talk about priorities: if Richard III really gives up his kingdom for a horse, then doesn’t he lose the kingdom?
As I went to a high school for the arts, our civics teachers used our passion for the arts to back up the history of the artist’s time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am almost as passionate about politics as I am about the arts: I learned through the works of the likes of Shakespeare how politics played into the human condition for everyone from the top down.
Still, how does one get through to students not passionate about the arts why Shakespeare is important? Well, how many current artists still use Shakespeare as their inspiration? If one examines most current films and music, there are correlations to the Bard. There are still Romeos and Juliets, and shrews, and tortured sons trying to atone the sins of their father. They are everywhere. Students just need guidance in finding the connections.
The language of Shakespeare may have morphed into the language that we call English today, but it’s still there. The origins are still there because the human condition and the challenges of the human emotions have not changed. Shakespeare is alive and well…and, hopefully, still living in our classrooms as well as our theaters.