Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Shakespeare and Current Events: War

A victorious yet broken King

One quote we hear from students over and over again is “Shakespeare doesn’t relate to my life.” In a sense, they could be right: Shakespeare wrote his plays 400 years ago, often about subject matter even older than that! However, the topics he explored inside of the action are what keep us coming back. Quoted out of context, Shakespeare’s words could be used to argue for or against many topics we are still debating today.

For example, many (if not all) of the history plays involve war – not only the glories of it, but also the pitfalls. This duality is expressed visually in Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film of Henry V. Laurence Olivier’s film version of the same play was meant to inspire young soldiers. Our world has known much of war since Shakespeare’s day, and with on-the-scene news reports, we are more aware than ever of what war can do to a country and its people.

A glorious, triumphant warrior King

HERE is a link to the Shakespeare Searched entries for the term “War,” and HERE for “Peace.” Tell your class that you are a king who is having trouble deciding whether or not to go to war with another country. Divide the class into two groups – one for and one against war – and ask them to debate using quotes from Shakespeare to convince you to either go to war, or to remain a peaceful state. Let them use one class period to prepare, and another to hold the debate. When the debate is over, discuss which of the quotes used were most convincing for both sides, and try to find the context for them.

For example, during the debate a student on the Pro side could address you:
‘O, King,’
“Away, and glister like the god of war,
When he intendeth to become the field:
Show boldness and aspiring confidence.”
~King John Act 5 scene 1

They will find arguments for both sides under each word’s search. Discuss, if there’s time, how context affects the argument of the quote.

What other topics might students debate with Shakespeare?

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