Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Subconscious Shakespeare

Odds are that in a classroom of students who have never been taught Shakespeare before, the majority of them may already be at least a little familiar with some aspect of his work. I have no statistical proof to back that statement up, but it does seem likely that in a world where passionate couples are referred to as “Romeos and Juliets,” and the iconic image of a young man holding a skull is enough to make the brain jump to “to be or not to be,” that students are surrounded by Shakespeare already.

It’s an interesting conversation-starter, anyway. When I taught with SSO one of the first conversations was to ask the class what they already knew about Shakespeare. A lot of voices piped up with “He wrote stuff,” “Weren’t there some plays?” and some character recognition, “Romeo and Juliet, that was his.” Before they even get to a sit-down conversation about what they know about Shakespeare, they don’t realize the tidbits they’re picking up from pop-culture. I saw them relax before my eyes as they realized they already knew the subject, they just hadn’t been up-close yet.

I’m sure that by this point in the year, your students are already quite familiar with Shakespeare from your lessons, but it’s a fun conversation to have. Before there was a book and an audition, what did they already know?


  • That’s a great point. I just saw a wonderful poster along those lines in a 7th grade English classroom today. It was covered with a dozen or so well-known expressions that come from Shakespeare (with the source underneath each expression in smaller font).

  • Neat! We actually have 2 posters in a series like that which we give away at NCTE. Both feature the Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare in the background (one black and one red) with different phrases students might already know – like “foul play,” “the short and the long of it,” “dead as a doornail,” etc, and say You are Quoting Shakespeare. Some teachers are even surprised to read those posters!

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