Why Teach Shakespeare?

Posted: February 25, 2014 in Education, Literature


Most English literature teachers will tell you they like Shakespeare…the honest ones will tell you they love Shakespeare…and the ones trying to be unconventional and hip will tell you he’s overrated. Pfft. I love him…well…his work.

As far as I’m concerned, Shakespeare is to English literature as keys are to a car – one is used to drive the other (pun intended). The first and, perhaps, most obvious reason as to why Shakespeare is taught in schools (still) is because of his themes. His themes consist of: love, lust, hatred, greed, power, trickery/disguise, happiness, death, loyalty, friendship, marriage, justice, murder, suffering, and companionship – all of which are still prevalent in our world today and will continue to be themes present in our world tomorrow and for centuries more. There is the argument, however, that newer and more contemporary playwrights are not only easier to understand, but tackle those same themes in a more contemporary way. True. However, if you’re an avid reader of my posts, you’ll know my feeling on this…contemporary doesn’t equate to better. With that being said, the students at my school do read Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman…so…that’s good.

Reason #2: Like I said, one cannot study English literature (or the English language for that matter) without studying Shakespeare. He was one of the biggest influences on the English language. He experimented with blank verse, created new words and phrases still used today, and is even responsible for helping to standardize the English language.

By the 1590’s, blank verse had caught on with some of the best new writers in London…The words and sounds coming from the stage were new and thrilling to Shakespeare’s audience. England was falling in love with its own language…The grammar books and dictionaries that finally fixed the “rules” of English did not appear until after Shakespeare’s death…Politically, the country also grew in power and pride. (Hamlet. Barron’s Educational Series, 2002. 11-12).

Reason #3: Northrop Frye states in his work, The Educated Imagination, that the best works in English literature have already been created – Frye states this in reference to Shakespeare. In other words, someone may come along and write a play as good as King Lear, but never better. If that’s the case, there’s no sense in wasting time…if we have the best, then study the best.

Ever used these phrases? 1. A sorry sight, 2. Come what may, 3. Good riddance, 4. Send him packing (ladies?), 5. In a pickle, 6. Love is blind, 7. Wear your heart on your sleeve, 8. Seen better days, 9. In stitches, 10. Didn’t sleep a wink. Well, you can thank Shakespeare for those. Hey, ever told a knock knock joke? You can thank him for that too.

  1. Ha nice meme there! And I agree that Shakespeare had a great affect on modern writing, but in this day of age, how does reading writing 500 years ago help in the job market, help maintain a family, and honestly survive? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to teach modern works such as New York Times–works that will surround users everyday? Great post though! Read more here: http://cafemocha.org/the-big-questions-in-life-why-do-we-force-our-students-to-read-shakespeare/

    • dmitrilee says:

      Hi Rajat. Thanks for the comment. I get that question a lot – what DOES he have to teach us about contemporary life? My lame response to that is what you would go to any fictional story to find…an inside look to the thoughts and actions of characters, which will hopefully make us examine our own personal decisions. Northrop Frye argued that no one goes to Macbeth to learn about Scotland, they go for a personal tragedy of a man that gains a kingdom, but loses his soul. Fictional stories make us look within and challenge ourselves, so does it help us maintain a family or help us in the job market? No. Should it help us draw our own moral line to help us survive? Yes.

      Thanks again for the intelligent comment. I appreciate it.

  2. good writing. impressive and full of knowledge

  3. dmitrilee says:

    Hi Vandana, thanks for taking the time to comment and for the nice words. That means a lot to me. Truly.

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