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BWW Blog: A Reaction to “Helen Mirren Believes that Shakespeare Should Not Be Taught in Schools”

Biden, perhaps Helen Mirren should replace Betsy DeVos?

BWW Blog: A Reaction to “Helen Mirren Believes that Shakespeare Should Not Be Taught in Schools”

My first interaction with Shakespeare was in my Freshman year English class with Mrs. Garver, who is also the fabulous drama director at my high school. We read Romeo and Juliet. I remember not understanding the hype. After we read the play, we watched the Baz Luhrmann film, and it didn't do much to lessen my confusion. I remember thinking, "I wish I could see this live," or at least the way in which Shakespeare intended it to be seen. Maybe that was just my inner theatre nerd shining through.

The following year, I saw my friends perform A Midsummer's Night Dream. Though it was not a professional production, it was a well-done high-school rendition, and it changed my opinion on Shakespeare for the better. A Midsummer's Night Dream is hysterically funny and witty, and I do not think that humor can be communicated in a classroom as a student reads aloud the stage directions instead of actors doing them. Now, Shakespeare is not my personal favorite Elizabethan Era playwright, I would take Dr. Faustus over Hamlet any day, but there is no denying that he created brilliant work, and that his work is meant to be seen live.

I do think Shakespeare needs to be studied in a classroom, but in a different way. Most students in that freshman year English class would not voluntarily go see a Shakespeare production. Where I live, productions of Shakespeare's works are not readily available. However, I certainly think there are ways to make a student's introduction to Shakespeare more truthful to what he intended. For example, the University of Iowa has access to live productions of Shakespeare and other British plays performed at The Globe through our library, so I was able to watch The Tempest while being introduced to the written work in my theatre history class. While The Tempest is not my cup of tea, I certainly was more impressed with it than Romeo and Juliet, and I credit seeing the play while reading the work for this shift of opinion.

Perhaps the problem is less so how a student is first introduced to Shakespeare, but more so a lack of investment in theatre education at the high school level. If a portion of a school's budget went to gaining access to taped performances at The Globe, would it be worth it? Would it change students' perspectives on Shakespeare? I think so. The Globe's productions are nothing short of a spectacle and performed the way in which Shakespeare intended. They are the closest thing we have to historical archives of his performances. When we watched Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet and Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet in English class, students were certainly interested. Phones were down and eyes were up. Why not invest in giving teachers the opportunity to show their students the closest thing to the original production? Tony and Academy Award winning Dame Helen Mirren would certainly agree with this "twee" 19-year-old Theatre Arts student.


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