Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Finding Love for the Oft-Overlooked

Another season of student festivals is behind us, and with it, another hearty showing of all the Shakespeare favorites: Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night’s Dream always have a loyal following (you just can’t beat a good Pyramus and Thisbe), Macbeth and Hamlet continue to be crowd pleasers, and Twelfth Night and Winter’s Tale are hot new additions to the mix.  One quick read and it is easy to see why these great works have become timeless favorites and why teachers and students revisit them again and again.  But over the course of his lifetime, Shakespeare wrote about 37 plays (give or take some of the disputed co-authorships) as well as a plethora of poetry.  What about the other 31 plays?

Bob Young, Folger’s Director of Education, has argued for years on the countless benefits of reading Titus Andronicus with students (what kid doesn’t love a good tale of blood and gore?), and this year, we were pleasantly surprised to watch a student-directed cutting of the rarely seen Timon of Athens.  Perhaps it’s time to visit some of Shakespeare’s lesser-produced works and see where students take them.  Or maybe you already have…

Which of Shakespeare’s plays have you worked on with your students?  Are there any plays you see as being too difficult or risky to venture, and why?  If you have studied or produced a lesser-known Shakespeare work with students, what was the experience like for you?


  • While I love it for many of the things it does from a dramatic/literary standpoint, I think that many classrooms would be scared away from Merchant of Venice. While it could be taught maturely, the Anti-Semitic tones of many of the lead characters would be a risky proposition in an often sensitive academic environment.

  • It is definitely risky, no doubt. However, the blurry lines and gray spots that emerge in some of Shakespeare’s work (for another example, the treatment of Kate in Taming of the Shrew) do make an interesting jumping-off point for much discussion.

    Perhaps less controversial but filled with endless questions, Measure for Measure was a work that one of my classes tackled last year. It has since become one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays – the discussions were rich and full of viewpoints that widely differed from each other. I must also admit, though, the class is structured so that there was a different guest lecturer on most days. I believe the varying approaches and viewpoints towards the text helped to keep the conversations fresh and consistently linked to the work, without it being taken to riskier places.

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