As a self-proclaimed Shakespeare fanatic, I take it for granted that anyone would not be completely enthralled with reading, reciting, or otherwise obsessing over iambic pentameter. What’s not to love? Shakespeare has something for everyone.
I equate reading Shakespeare with selecting the perfect movie to watch on a Saturday night. Shakespeare’s selection of works offers a genre for all.You’re a hopeless romantic? Shakespeare has enough wooing and love professing to satisfy those with the most incurable cases of lovesickness. Got a taste for violence? See Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, and King Lear for the most cruel and lamentable tales of murder, dismembering, eye-gouging and other assorted stories of the depraved.
Love to laugh? With more duelling verse than a Tracy and Hepburn movie, the Bard’s got you covered there, too.
Be this as it may, it cannot be denied that some people cannot get past their unpleasant past experiences with Will, which may leave them closed off to discovering the fun world of Shakespeare that awaits them.
I was one of the lucky ones who were exposed to Shakespeare as receptive and willing followers led down the iambic pentameter-paved path by a trusted and very enthusiastic English teacher. Now an English teacher by profession, I strive to provide the same positive, initial reading, viewing, and performing experiences for my students. When sharing the Shakespeare work I do with elementary English Language Learners (ELLs), I usually encounter two opposing reactions: encouraging support or cynical disbelief. The former usually results from persons who also had positive previous encounters with Shakespeare and the latter from those who would rather experience a root canal than read one of his sonnets or the first act of a play.
While some, initially sceptical of Shakespeare, may have had the fortitude to persevere through subsequent readings and literature classes, many close the book on Shakespeare for good. A bad encounter with the Bard can take years of literary therapy to restore trust in the significance of his works.
As Shakespeare wrote in King Henry IV, Part II “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”, which aptly applies to those whose responsibility it is to pass down the works of great writers to future generations. As English teachers, our job is not merely to expose students to required reading within a language arts curriculum. We must also acknowledge our responsibility for shaping the literary habits of our impressionable students. If we provide negative reading experiences for our young students now, it may inhibit the impact and considerable influence that literature may develop later on in their lives.
While encountering the occasional anti-Shakespeare cynic may be frustrating at times, I’m actually grateful for the opportunity. Having to justify the work I do with an ELL population further motivates me to instill a deep appreciation of literature within my students, which will allow them to share in the great literary legacy left to us by Master William Shakespeare.
I am firmly resolved that none of my ELL students will become beaten down and fearful of the task of acquiring challenging vocabulary and that no child will be left behind as they are immersed in Shakespeare’s world of colour, characters and complex plot lines.