When George Mallory was asked why he chose to climb Mount Everest, his alleged answer was “Because it’s there.”
I’m sure that, to many students, such a phrase could apply equally when asked why we study the works of Shakespeare. Undoubtedly, it would be a lot easier to avoid reading a four-hundred year-old play written in what may seem like a foreign tongue.
The Oxford Home Schooling Key Stage 3 English course allows pupils to study some of the best literature. My pupils love adventure novels such as Holes by David Sacher or Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver; they willingly engage with the bleak realism of Stone Cold by Robert Swindells or Through the Barricades by Joan Lingard; they enjoy the mystery and magic of The Drum by Chinua Achebe and Heaven Eyes by David Almond. But, although there are a few exceptions, the majority of them view Shakespeare almost with suspicion, as though he is a speed bump on an otherwise clearly navigable route.
Now we all know that the language itself can be a barrier, but get past that and you will find a wealth of plot lines which are full of adventure, realism, mystery and magic. We may find Shakespeare a challenge but it is certainly one which we should embrace (well- prepared, of course).
In some ways, yes, we study the works of Shakespeare because they are there, and for some pupils it is a very high and troublesome range of mountains which has to be climbed. A work by Shakespeare is a compulsory element of the English curriculum and has to be tackled sooner or later. This has led to complaints by some, including the novelist, Zadie Smith, but there is no doubt that his work, enjoy it or not, includes some of the finest writing in the English language. The English syllabus is constantly changing, but in order to include the best of the new the ’classics’ can become marginalised. In many ways, then, it is a comfort that Shakespeare remains, standing tall.
Take on the challenge and you will see that there is something to be gained by emerging above the clouds at the top with a new perspective on the world.
(KS3 English tutor)
I have been working for Oxford Open Learning since 2010 and love helping my students with their English and History courses. As a teacher and personal tutor, I have taught pupils from all around the world, aged from three to adult. I am often to be found with my head in a book and sometimes I have four or five on the go at the same time. I love learning about History and Art and am passionate about literature.