The study of Shakespeare offers lessons for today
It’s good to be reminded what we are grateful for. The June 14 letter writer has done me this service when it comes to the plays of William Shakespeare. While the writer urges teachers to ignore Shakespeare when teaching literature due to the playwright’s “bigotry” and “religious hate,” I feel nothing but gladness that these plays exist and continue to be taught in many classrooms.
Yes, some of Shakespeare’s works evidence the various prejudices of his day. What better material, then, for discussion of the evolution of social standards and mores?
After all, our Constitution still includes passages about the horrible commerce of slavery and so we teach how the country has sought to redress that wrong through later amendments.
Shakespeare’s four tragedies certainly include a lot of physical and mental violence, but have you noticed that it never leads to happiness or even worldly success? Thus we learn that Hamlet, Lear, Othello and Macbeth (not to mention his wife) have so grievously hurt others that their only recourse is madness and death.
While it is anyone’s privilege to regard the plays as dated, unreadable or boring, there is lots of evidence around the world that others find the work lyrical, informative and emotionally stirring. A wonderful example is the present production of Julius Caesar at New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park: Played in modern dress, it has sparked huge discussions about art and politics because Caesar is made to look like Donald Trump.
What could be more current and educational?
Lastly, I want to speak up for the value of the plays as plays. Reading them can be valuable but seeing and hearing them is experiencing Shakespeare’s writing as he intended.
Try the films featuring Laurence Olivier or directed by Kenneth Branagh, for example, and enjoy!
Susan Hale Whitmore