By Mari O’Meara
Like most teachers, when a Shakespearean unit is announced, I am greeted by many loud groans and a few students voicing the usual (whiny) complaints- “It’s so boring!” “I don’t understand it”; “Do we have to?” Tuning out students’ complaints is a well-developed skill of all teachers. The one complaint I always find satisfaction in responding to is “Do we have to?”
To my students’ surprise and premature glee, I tell my students, “no, you don’t have to study Shakespeare”; however, like all curriculum, the reasons to NOT study Shakespeare in an English curriculum must be carefully researched, supported, and presented. Thus, I challenge my students to take on the task of proving me (and the school board) why we shouldn’t study Shakespeare in a secondary English classroom.
Thinking they are getting out of learning, the students embrace the challenge, and thus, immerse themselves in formal and intense Shakespearean scholarship. Before they begin, I make it clear the only argument that garners no merit is to argue that Shakespeare is boring. Students offer subjects ranging from racism, sexual content, misogyny, religious issues, plagiarism, to the difficulty of Shakespearean language, the importance of a global curriculum, and even the authorship debate as reasons to not study Shakespeare—all topics that pique their interests and motivate them to want to learn more.
I have yet to find students come to the conclusion they shouldn’t study Shakespeare. In fact, their overwhelming response is that studying Shakespeare is a valuable and necessary experience. Even though they eventually embrace the study of Shakespeare, they are students, and they will continue to complain; it’s just that their complaining shifts to “why can’t we study more Shakespeare?”
Mari O’Meara is a member of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s National Teacher Corps. She teaches 12th grade English and Film Studies at Eden Prairie High School in Eden Prairie, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.