A tutor’s perspective: Why do we study Shakespeare in high school?

A tutor’s perspective: Why do we study Shakespeare in high school?

This is a question I have been met with countless times. So many students remain unaware of the reason their teacher is analysing the text and making them watch various renditions of the famous plays.

This can be exhausting, perplexing, and downright annoying. All we know is that one day in English class our teacher put the text in front of us. But why did they do that?

My answer is this:

In an entertaining and thought provoking manner, Shakespeare provides a visceral understanding of what it means to be human. Not because it has all the answers, but because it gives rise to all the right questions.

What these questions are will be explored in an upcoming blog. For now, I’d like to delve deeper into the first half of my definition.

We as human beings have the capacity to understand Shakespeare because at its core it is a reflection; a mirror image of the human condition. None of us are exempt from that condition which means we can understand Shakespeare. So, do not fear, you will intellectualise it and eventually you will feel it. Before we get to the how, let us use a metaphor to help us conceptualise!

I want you to think of Shakespeare’s work like a fruit tree that contains every fruit imaginable. It is there for the taking, but first we must pick and eat it. We put the time in to pick the various fruits and then enjoy the sustenance it provides. Without us receiving and enjoying the fruit, it has no purpose. We are co-contributors to its purpose. That may sound corny or tutorish, (Yes, I just invented a word – see what Shakespeare has done to me?!) but it’s not coming from a place of fandom.

Rather, it comes from a deep understanding and gratitude for what it has given me; an opportunity for self-discovery. It’s a lesson which, to me, is unparalleled by any other. What greater knowledge is there than the knowledge of thyself?

Go ahead, read your first page. If nothing else interests you, your human desire to eat the fruit should be enough. If you’re not feeling peckish, self-interest will do it – we’re all self-serving narcissists deep down anyway 😉

I leave you with my favourite Shakespearean sonnet to get you thinking.

Sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

This is a question I have been met with countless times. So many students remain unaware of the reason their teacher is analysing the text and making them watch various renditions of the famous plays.

This can be exhausting, perplexing, and downright annoying. All we know is that one day in English class our teacher put the text in front of us. But why did they do that?

My answer is this:

In an entertaining and thought provoking manner, Shakespeare provides a visceral understanding of what it means to be human. Not because it has all the answers, but because it gives rise to all the right questions.

What these questions are will be explored in an upcoming blog. For now, I’d like to delve deeper into the first half of my definition.

We as human beings have the capacity to understand Shakespeare because at its core it is a reflection; a mirror image of the human condition. None of us are exempt from that condition which means we can understand Shakespeare. So, do not fear, you will intellectualise it and eventually you will feel it. Before we get to the how, let us use a metaphor to help us conceptualise!

I want you to think of Shakespeare’s work like a fruit tree that contains every fruit imaginable. It is there for the taking, but first we must pick and eat it. We put the time in to pick the various fruits and then enjoy the sustenance it provides. Without us receiving and enjoying the fruit, it has no purpose. We are co-contributors to its purpose. That may sound corny or tutorish, (Yes, I just invented a word – see what Shakespeare has done to me?!) but it’s not coming from a place of fandom.

Rather, it comes from a deep understanding and gratitude for what it has given me; an opportunity for self-discovery. It’s a lesson which, to me, is unparalleled by any other. What greater knowledge is there than the knowledge of thyself?

Go ahead, read your first page. If nothing else interests you, your human desire to eat the fruit should be enough. If you’re not feeling peckish, self-interest will do it – we’re all self-serving narcissists deep down anyway 😉

I leave you with my favourite Shakespearean sonnet to get you thinking.

Sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.