Is Shakespeare universal?
March 4, 2021
“When teachers choose to cover books with an entire class, they do so because it will help to improve reading skills and because it has universal qualities,” said Mr. Naylor, a ninth grade English teacher who teaches Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet each year. “Some teachers argue that Shakespeare is no longer universal, but I disagree. I think students from all walks of life can connect with the themes in his plays. In Romeo and Juliet alone you have young love, kids sneaking around behind their parents’ back, parents trying to control their kids lives and issues like depression and suicide. Those are ideas more important in the lives of the teens now than when Shakespeare wrote them.”
Mr. Naylor said connections with Shakespeare is also a lesson in empathy that should be a focus when reading any book.
“The whole point in reading any book is losing yourself in it for those hours, of making connections, feeling empathy. Shakespeare’s works are plays. The whole point to a movie or play is to suspend your disbelief for two hours and lose yourself in the characters. I’ve never been a prince and my dad wasn’t murdered by my uncle, but because of his issues with self-doubt and depression I can connect with Hamlet.”
However, Christopher Patrick, a teacher from nearby Huntingdon Area high School, says otherwise. He believes that Shakespeare may not be as relevant as people think, and his plays lack diversity.
” This may be unpopular, but I really think we could eliminate things like Shakespeare, Dickens, and some of the older, stuffy literature and expose our students to more modern things that weren’t all written by dead white guys,” Patrick said. “I think we should look at whether we’re teaching these things because ‘we’ve always done it’ or if there is a true value. I think our students need to be exposed to some of these writings, but I don’t believe that reading a Shakespeare play every year in high school is necessary when there is so much more out there for our students to read.”