Monday, February 23, 2015

Don't Let Students "Read" Shakespeare

There may be no worse sound in the world for an English teacher than to hear high school students struggle as they mangle, mishandle, and malign the words of the Bard after their teacher has asked them to "be the part of" Romeo or Hamlet or Macbeth or Brutus or any other of the brilliant characters brought to life by the greatest playwright of all time.  This sound is only worsened by the visual of a couple fifteen year old boys using their pens to "act out" the sword fight between Tybalt and Mercutio or Hamlet and Laertes. Needless to say, I am opposed to students "studying" Shakespeare by reading it aloud and acting it out in class.

After I finish a study of Hamlet with my AP juniors, I am always pleased with their understanding of the play and their knowledge that they have experienced the language as it was meant to be heard - from classically trained actors.  Thus, in the study of Shakespeare I make regular class use of CD/sound recordings, and occasionally well-done movie versions, so my students can appreciate Shakespeare the way it was meant to be.  In Hamlet, for example, I call upon the Arkangel version of the play, as it is an excellent, well-acted, comprehensive edition of the text.  And of course, there is no finer version of the texts than the Folger Library version of the plays.

I do not ask that the students read the plays alone or ahead of time - other than perhaps the scene summaries - because the work was not meant to be read silently.  It's drama.  It's a play for goodness sakes.  It's meant to be performed - heard and/or seen.  Thus, while I will analyze the text in a variety of ways - including some recitation (Hamlet's soliloquies, for example) - I do not expect students to go home and read and understand Shakespeare on their own.  It must be experienced in order to be appreciated, and it must be appreciated in order to be studied effectively. And it won't be studied or appreciated with a couple of untrained, ineffective, bored, or bumbling teenagers stumbling through the lines in front of class.

No comments: