Last week, I was surprised to hear from three friends that they had seen three different Shakespeare productions in the greater Washington D.C. area. We are so lucky to have so many great Shakespeare resources here in D.C. Aside from the permanent resources like The Folgers Shakespeare Library and Theatre on Capitol Hill, and the Shakespeare Theatre Company with multiple locations downtown, there are troupes that travel through and local groups in our suburbs. Shakespeare is very easily accessible for Washingtonians.
I grew up in the shadow of NYC where theater is central to the culture and took advantage of it. Right now, Broadway is featuring a one-man version of Macbeth and the annual summer tradition of Shakespeare in the Park is in full swing. If there isn’t a Shakespeare play on Broadway, you’ll be able to find one off-Broadway.
If you gave up on Shakespeare when you were forced to study it in high school, give it another try. I have read and seen my share of Shakespeare over the years. I’m always astounded how easily I can keep up despite the style of English that is foreign to today’s English speakers. Many modern adaptations have been made that have helped people who struggle with the old English. Get over the hurdles of the language with a current take on the original plays. The musical Kiss Me, Kate and the movie Ten Thing I Hate About You are both modern adaptations of Taming of the Shrew. Disney’s The Lion King is based on Hamlet. Romeo and Juliet was set in 1960’s New York in West Side Story. When you understand the message of these shows and movies, you understand what Shakespeare was trying to say in his strange English and can enjoy it. The popularity of television shows set in Shakespeare’s time period, such as Game of Thrones, is a great opportunity to capitalize on students’ interests now.
There are so many lessons to be learned from a Shakespeare tragedy, history or comedy. Because of the diverse nature of issues covered as well as the many ways that his works have been delivered over the years, Shakespeare is a great author for all students to study. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I remember this, but there’s a great example of how the many adaptations of Shakespeare help students learn the materials from the movie Clueless, a popular teen movie about a seemingly ditzy blonde. In the film (which is an adaptation of another classical author in Jane Austen’s Emma), the main character, Cher, corrects her step brother’s girlfriend about who said a quote from Hamlet. She says, “Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn’t say that. That Polonius guy did.” Cher’s love of Mel Gibson helped Hamlet sink in for her and she enjoyed it enough to remember the exact quote.
I think Shakespeare is wonderful and that all students should be exposed to it. There so many different learning styles per student that it is worth a try to bring students to a play or have them watch an adaptation of a play that might interest them. I’m sure every girl who had a crush on Leonardo Di Caprio after watching Titanic went back and watched the movie Romeo + Juliet. It’s our goal to help you achieve that student interest in our course Shakespeare for Adolescents and Young Adults. We want to give teachers the tools to bring these tricky, old English plays into the 21st century and present them to students so that they grasp the message William Shakespeare was trying to get across. You will come out of the class with three graduate level credits and an armory of ways to teach next year’s Shakespeare section.
Last year, I saw the instructor of the above course walking down the hall with a plastic battle axe. I didn’t ask questions but I really wished that I had had the time to sit in on that class that particular day. It sounds like a great way to spend a week to me.