The experience of reading a Shakespeare play in English is the one constant throughout my years in these “graceful halls of learning.” While at Marlborough, most students read many sonnets and four Shakespeare plays. I feel this is far too many because Shakespeare cannot be considered four times better than any other author read at Marlborough. Reading Shakespeare forces us to spend precious class time learning how to understand old English, and we are missing out on an opportunity to explore more diverse literature.
I understand the appeal of Shakespeare’s plays. The literary devices are complex, the storylines are action-packed. Some themes have modern-day relevance and the rhymes and iambic pentameter are interesting.
Regardless, Marlborough students read no other author’s works even twice —yet we read Shakespeare four times. Reading Shakespeare is a quintessential high school experience that should not be taken away, but the problem arises when we are asked to read his plays year after year.
With any book, teachers work hard to create a balance between basic comprehension and deeper understanding, with the latter dominating class discussion. However, with Shakespeare, teachers have little choice but to reverse this balance. The focus of class shifts from learning how to interpret and connect with literature to learning how to read Elizabethan English, an arguably less pragmatic life skill.
The disproportionate number of Shakespeare plays read at Marlborough seems especially ironic at a time when the School is focusing on diversity and inclusiveness in the curriculum. Shakespeare is yet another outdated, white, male voice, yet unlike other “classic” authors, he continues to dominate the curriculum.
Instead of struggling through Romeo and Juliet, we should be exploring classic Latin American, Asian or African literature, all of which are underrepresented in the current curriculum. We could explore journalism, or read about feminism, philosophy, or religions other than Christianity. By choosing to include so much Shakespeare in the curriculum, Marlborough students are missing out on this exposure.
Most people do not question the abundance of Shakespeare in middle and high schools, but I urge you not to fall into the “we’ve always done it, so we should continue doing it” trap. We need to stop sacrificing a more comprehensive literary education in the name of nostalgia for a man who died over 400 years ago.