The value of studying Shakespeare
To what value is it to study Shakespeare? Are plays by Shakespeare still worth reading? Who was Shakespeare? Isn’t he just an old dead guy? Didn’t he live more than 400 years ago? Yes, he lived a long time ago which is part of the reason why Shakespeare's works are still important and worthy of studying. Is Shakespeare for kids though? I came to decide to include plays by Shakespeare in our curriculum after discovering what an influence the “Bard of Avon” (as he was sometimes called) had on the development of the English language. It became evident that to ignore Shakespeare was to really miss out on one of the biggest influences of our Mother Tongue.
Did you know that Shakespeare invented many, many new words and phrases that we use every day. Words like “majestic” and “obscene”. And phrases like “hot-blooded” and “dead as a doornail”. It has been estimated that a few thousand original words and phrases can be attributed to him. As my children read, their understanding of vocabulary is stretched. They are able to experience the intense beauty of the English language through these 500 year old plays by Shakespeare.
Following the complicated plot lines is a terrific way to learn to follow logic. Along with all the educational value, they can even share a laugh at some of the comedic details that they have learned to decipher out of the Elizabethan style. It is a joy for this parent to hear those laughs and realize that they indeed understood the joke encased in some pretty challenging language!
Some of Shakespeare’s works can arguably be considered more popular today than they were in the 16th century. No other work has been so read, watched, analyzed and studied in the literary world. Shakespeare's works champions the greater values of love, courage, faithfulness, honor and duty. Try to find these values on your typical playlist on the Disney channel!
Shakespeare observed man in all his glorious humanity. His characters don’t hesitate to display great weakness as well as great strength in very real ways that we all can identify with. As we read, we see the best and the worst that mankind has to offer. A careful study of Shakespeare's works allows us to understand better the human condition.
One last thought. Generally, these plays by Shakespeare and his sonnets are not introduced until high school. That is unfortunate. When there has not been previous exposure to the Great Poet, and there is an expectation upon teachers for instant appreciation and understanding, those expectations are rarely met. This is why our family has made use of easier yet complete compilations of many of the Shakespeare's works. Collections written by Nesbit or Lamb are some of our favorites. They were produced particularly for children and are helpful to allow for easier understanding.
So don’t discount learning from an old dead guy! Especially if he has even half of the influence on language, literature and art as William Shakespeare did.