One of the best aspects of diversity awareness in recent years is that it has called into question what we are having children read in English class. The majority of high school reading lists consist of primarily white, male, Anglo-Saxon authors, with the odd Toni Morrison book thrown in for the sake of “diversity.” Now, these white authors are being replaced in favor of black and Indigenous books to be read in the classroom 一 one of these white authors being William Shakespeare. A staple in classrooms for decades, there are many valid reasons to want his works removed from the curriculum, but to eliminate Shakespeare is to omit what could be another chance to help diversify the English classroom in what mediums are utilized.
The old adage of “Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not read” has been used both by people justifying their hatred of reading 15th-century prose and by English teachers who then forget to broadcast the plays in the classroom. I was lucky enough to watch snippets of the 1996 “Romeo + Juliet” in my high school English class alongside one or two key scenes of the book. We also got to watch larger chunks of Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” instead of simply reading the play, which made the reading experience so much more enjoyable. We should not ax Shakespeare from the curriculum; we just need to revise the way in which we present his work. Showing the films and recordings of plays that perform Shakespeare’s work would make reading the material more engaging for students. Instead of slogging through pages of old grammar and stage directions, students can witness how these lines and directions might actively be performed. This enriches the learning experience and could give students a better advantage to know not just how to analyze texts, but films as well.
While the concept that some books are “important to read” no matter how much students dislike them is outdated, Shakespeare’s plays should still remain on the list, if not for their literary merit, then for their entertainment value. Offering more diverse literature to students is beneficial, but removing Shakespeare’s interestingly old-time humor and stories that have enriched the English language would be the greatest disservice. There is a reason why his sonnets are still recited by lovers, and the title of “Shakespearean actor” is one of the most revered titles in modern theatre. His work is timeless, but it is only engaging as long as it is in the form it was meant to be enjoyed.
Keeping this shift toward sharing Shakespearean recordings rather than just writings, we should take this medium diversification and spread it to other books by authors of color. About 65% of people are visual learners, after all, so instead of just having the class read Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give,” show the movie as well and ask students to reflect on the realities of police brutality in the United States. Reading words on a page can distance the reader from what’s actually happening in the piece; to watch it play out on the screen in well-made adaptations may prove to be more beneficial to students in the long run.
To keep Shakespeare in the curriculum shouldn’t mean a dead white author is getting preference in the classroom above an author of color. What it should mean instead is that schools must change the way that we analyze his works in an English class. By incorporating recordings of plays, or showing films of Shakespearean works and the works of diverse authors that are going to be brought into the classroom, students will get a more visceral analytical experience. The combination of classic theatre mixed with modern-day discussions of race and sexuality will make them more well-rounded critical thinkers that are better suited for today’s society.