Teaching Shakespeare: Best Play to Start?

I’ve been thinking about Shakespeare a lot recently–I’ve been getting into theater, I saw Something Rotten and read Twelfth Night this summer, I’m getting deeper into learning to teach English, and now my brother’s in high school and will be reading Romeo and Juliet this year.

When I heard that last item, I was a little disappointed…I saw a production of it my freshman year of high school, and there’s certainly a lot of dramatic momentum and memorable words, but it’s gained a bit of unfair stigma as a trivial, quick love story between teenagers (which is basically societal reflection on teenage relationships and the romance genre anyway). I’m worried my brother wouldn’t enjoy it as much as, say, Macbeth.

So this prompted me to reflect and I’d like to share my experience with Shakespeare in school and open up the discussion to those who have read more than me. Please comment!

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (freshman year): This was a great introduction. It’s wacky, fun to act out, a good exercise in keeping characters straight, and we got to say “ass” a lot and act out a play within a play.
  • Much Ado About Nothing (sophomore year): We watched the movie of this first (the 90s one), which definitely helped when we read it. This we were less concerned with the language and everything, anyway. Less wacky, but still fun?
  • Macbeth (senior year): On the serious side, here’s a lot of blood and murder and witches and dramatic tension and irony. Captivating and fun to act out.

I also had a good although not immersive experience (because I spent less time on it) with Twelfth Night this summer–definitely another fun, wacky one, and its use of gender can certainly open up discussions, engagement, and inclusivity in general.

What has been your experiences with Shakespeare in school? What plays engaged you and with what activities?

 

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23 thoughts on “Teaching Shakespeare: Best Play to Start?

    • I still need to read Othello and Hamlet. Sorry he hasn’t worked for you! I do prefer watching interpretations of it than actually read it on my own (bit easier with a class)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My school does a Shakespeare play every year, we started off with A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was 12 which I didn’t enjoy much, I think primarily because I was so young. Next we did Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet which I also didn’t enjoy much, however when I was 15 we did Much Ado About Nothing which I really enjoyed. This year we are doing Othello which is quite enjoyable. I think that my school did Macbeth a bit too early, but the others were good choices for me being so young.

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  2. I’ll be honest, school put me right off Shakespeare’s work for a long time as I didn’t enjoy Romeo and Juliet. I then read MacBeth and King Lear though, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed! I’m still not a massive Shakespeare fan though (bad I know), I enjoy reading his sonnets though.

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    • You don’t have to be a massive fan! But I do think school can put people off reading it as much as it can ease students in and make them see it isn’t as intimidating

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  3. I love Shakespeare – being English and close to Stratford, our school experience included visits to his birth place and productions in the globe by the royal Shakespeare company. I love twelfth night and the tempest!

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  4. At my school in the UK we do some Shakespeare for every year group. This is what this coming year’s timetable looks like: https://boarsheadeastcheap.com/2017/07/10/age-cannot-stale-him/ Next year (2018/19), I think I’m going to add Julius Caesar into the mix.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of teaching R&J. Like you have alluded to, it comes with a lot of baggage and preconceptions – especially from boys, who tend to be the most resistant to Shakespeare anyway. Additionally, the language is not as accessible as othe plays – Macbeth, for example (which also has the added benefit of being short) …

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m going to do some student teaching spring 2020 (it may be what you call the summer term though, or some of it) in England hopefully, so it will be interesting to see what they cover. My college is putting on Julius Caesar this year so I’m excited for that.

    Like

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