Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

A Crime to Teach Shakespeare as We Do Now

Don’t be alarmed. My headline doesn’t apply to most of you who are followers of this Blog. And I don’t mean to malign or indict  other Shakespeare teachers. So please read on.

That headline appeared in an article in the NY Times in 1916 on the 300th commemoration of Shakespeare’s death. Plans are already underway at the Folger and at Shakespeare theaters across the world to celebrate the 400th, but I thought I’d look back a bit to look at the pedogogy of the early 20th century.

So let me cite a few passages (without any editorial comments) from that article by essayist and theater critic, Walter Prichard Eaton:

“More American children grow up today with a supposed knowledge of Shakespeare than ever before, and fewer ever see him acted–which simply means that fewer have any real knowledge of him”

 “At present it is safe to say that the average high school makes Shakespeare a bore….it fails utterly to inspire dramatic appreciation, to expand the imagination, to create affection.”

“I am convinced that the first thing which should be thrown overboard in a preliminary teaching of Shakespeare to  to children of high school age is the notes.”

“If I were teaching Shakespeare in a high school…I should first of all…have the desk removed from the platform, or shoved far back for a ‘Balcony’.”

“I should abolish most of the formality and discipline of the conventional classroom, and have a grand good time in the process.”

Any thoughts about this 96-year old article?

Next time, I’ll take a close look at Henry Caldwell Cook’s 1917 book on teaching Shakespeare,  The Play Way. It’s available for free on Google Books.


  • How paradoxically prophetic! Also, refreshing and frustrating that Eaton found the same thing in the classrooms of his day. I do enjoy the image of pushing back the desks and using them as a Balcony. Thanks for the article and the links. Great fodder for making a case for performance! Good to read you,

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