High School Students Need More Shakespeare Not Less

Rebekah Guin

  • North Carolina Columnist

“2B or not 2B,” is that the question? 

The renewed debate about Marlowe writing some of Shakespeare’s classic has brought the infamous bard’s prose back into the spotlight of the theater community. However, the debate over who penned the words seems quite silly when you look at how little respect our culture has for his work in the first place.

Countless 21st-century authors have revisited his classic plots in an attempt to make his stanzas more palatable for today’s youth.  

These travesties range from side-by-side modern translations to emojis and zombie reincarnations. 

Nearly every high school in the country forces glassy-eyed high school students to read at least one of his more popular plays before paper hats, bath robes and diplomas can be distributed. Though some future English majors do not mind reading “Romeo and Juliet,” many students opt for the SparkNotes version instead. 

This, mixed with the decline of U.S. literacy scores, has led authors down the long and winding path to save Shakespeare for the next generation. If high school students will not rise up to meet the text, we will bring the text to their level.  

When students scream that Shakespeare is too hard to understand, they are handed “No Fear Shakespeare.” When students scream that Shakespeare is too wordy, they are handed a series of texts and emojis in the form of “OMG Shakespeare.”  When students scream that Shakespeare’s plots are old fashioned and slow, they are handed “Romeo and Juliet and Zombies.” 

When society was handed one of the most beautiful playwrights the English language has ever seen, we screamed that it was too hard and not worth the effort. 

Society is losing the battle to save Shakespeare because we are not looking at it in the right way. 

Instead of forcing moody teens to read his plays, encourage them to watch them.  Shakespeare was never meant to be analyzed in a freshman English class. It was meant to be consumed from the front row of the house. 

When it is performed well, his plots are not hard to understand, they do not feel long-winded and they are just as relevant today as they were when his ink was still wet on the page. 

The emotion is presented on the face of the actors and not through emojis. Your eyes can not experience his careful use of alliteration, soothing vowels and stop plosive consonants in the same way even an untrained ear can hear them. 

Forcing students to read a play of this magnitude is like asking your average teen to read and understand the sheet music for a symphony. Instead of handing students the sheet music or dumbing it down to the level of a Taylor Swift song, we tell students to experience it for themselves. Shakespeare should be no different. 

There are about 60 recognized Shakespeare festivals left in the country.  Additionally, non-specialized venues will produce shows, but many will only include one of his works every few seasons.

It is up to the theater community to make sure students will have the chance to witness and enjoy Shakespeare in his true form by keeping his plays in their season rotation.  

Each performance of “Hamlet” helps keep a love for the words alive regardless of whether a man named William wrote them.

Photo: The Tempest performed by Berkshire Waldorf High School in collaboration with Shakespeare & Company Fall Festival of Shakespeare