Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Not Much Ado about Much Ado…

Recently the internet was abuzz with excitement over a secretly produced film of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Joss Whedon. Mostly, probably, because it’s one of the most well-loved nerds ever directing a cast of a few more of the most well-loved nerds.

I excitedly shared this information with my High School Fellowship mentees the day the news broke. I bounced in my seat, my eyes wide with excitement as I told them that Whedon had directed, and would release (eventually), a new setting for Much Ado on film.

Their blank looks knocked the wind right out of me. They had read Much Ado, they had had animated discussions about the play, and even more heated discussions about a local production they’d seen. They had written essays, become attached to characters, drawn out their own themes and morals from it. Nothing.

Maybe I had focused too much on the aspect that Whedon was directing. After all, they were far to young for Buffy or Angel when it was out, and hardly anyone’s seen Firefly unless you were told about it first. “A new adaptation of Much Ado on film, though, guys! That’s got to be cool,” I pressed, hoping that they’d get interested. Still nada.

Now, HSFP students have – as we like to say – drunk the Shakespeare kool-aid. If they can’t get excited about a new film version of a play, will students who’ve never seen it?

So I suppose that’s my question for you, educators. What gets your students excited about Shakespeare outside of the classroom? New film versions by well-loved directors? Shakespeare lines set to hip hop? Novels (or graphic novels) inspired by Shakespeare? Local live performances? There’s a plethora of ways Shakespeare is presented in the modern world, but who is it reaching?


  • Clearly, those students have not misspent their youths. My 16-year-old knows who Joss Whedon is and her eyes grew very large when I told her he’d done an adaptation of Much Ado.

  • This is an excellent and important question. I’ve heard that students perk up when they learn that the authorship question is an unsolved “mystery.” But then, I’m biased. So I’d be curious to hear from educators if they think there is any truth to this observation.

  • Easy peasy. Just tell your students a fairy tale about Shakespeare – that he was not Shakespeare, that he was actually an earl, that he was Queen Elizabeth’s son, that he slept with his mother, that they collaboratively produced the Earl of Southampton, etc., and then let them read what Dr. Richard Waugaman maintains in one of his numerous essays, “I believe that envy of Shakespeare’s extraordinary works is a significant reason for the stubborn refusal of Stratfordians to look at the authorship evidence objectively…I suspect their insistence that he must be a commoner is the first of many ways they cope with their envy of his literary accomplishments.” I’m sure your students will instantly perk up.

  • Sadly, the genius that is Joss Whedon is unfortunately underappreciated by all but the geekiest of us. (This news made me squee, though….)

    Facetiously, I would suggest that the cure for this is a mandatory marathon session of Buffy (or Firefly) for the entire class.

    Seriously, I would supply that the way I originally found Shakespeare penetrable was after we had to stage scenes of it ourselves, although I know not all curricula or all teachers can make room for that in their classrooms. (A pity, that.)

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