Don’t Dumb Down Shakespeare

I’m sharing a link to and excerpt from an article I found interesting, amusing, thought-provoking, and intelligent. I was going to preface this excerpt by acknowledging that it’s a bit old, but still relevant. Then I caught myself with some horror- ‘old.’ Old? It’s 11 years old. If we were putting this on a timeline it would be current.

Ranting aside, here’s the link.
Here’s the excerpt:
“This language is also entering our schools. Instead of simply teaching, teachers are now being invited to make a “personalised learning offer” to children. It’s more than just a dreary piece of business-speak. It implies that a child is a client or a customer, the figure to whom the “offer” is made. The children, in turn, are invited to be “co-investors with the state in their own education”.

Come again? I reckon if a child came up to me and said she saw herself as a co-investor with the state in her own education I’d have serious worries about her welfare. I’d start wondering whether management consultants have begun to form sinister sects, grabbing kids in playgrounds and indoctrinating them in business-speak.

And yet when it comes to giving our children a taste of Shakespeare and English at its most beautiful, then suddenly we’re all terrified. Might, like turn off the kids… know wha’ I mean. Instead they are offered alternative texts, issued by educational publishing houses, that supposedly make our greatest writer more palatable.

Here’s a taste. Take a few original lines from Macbeth:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
the handle toward my hand?

Compare them to the guide version:

Oooh! Would you look at that.

Yes, I know it sounds as if I’m making it up, but you can check it for yourself.”

Don’t do this to Shakespeare.
Don’t do this to your kids.

Look at the Shakepeare version- is it really that hard? Dagger is possibly the most unfamiliar word, but how challenging is it really to describe a dagger and then your child has a new word, a new image, in his vocabulary.

Words paint pictures in the mind, they give life to images and ideas- or they should. What life, what image can be drawn from ‘Ooo, would you look at that?’ It is so vague it’s meaningless- you could say the same thing if you were talking about a fancy bit of legwork in a dance, a juicy apple, a cute K-pop star, a beautiful frosted cake, a great pair of shoes or a hideous pair of shoes.

Use the first version, and you are opening wide a door for your children, or a window to wider horizons. Use the second version and you are slamming them shut in a windowless, airless room.

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  1. Jan
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    I am in my 70s and can stillhear Sir Laurence Olivier declaiming in Henry V the stirring speech. Before battle.

  2. Jan
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    I should have added I was in third year of high school, possibly 15, perhaps 14.

  3. Posted March 19, 2018 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    It’s like the super popular phrase right now, “Invitation to play” and it grates on my nerves.

    One of my favorite Shakespeare companies locally used to before their plays do an intro to Shakespeare, which I loved. They’d do the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, and the actors would deliver part of the line, and then they’d rephrase it into “modern English,” it was a hilarious bit which served to illustrate their point, you can understand Shakespeare if you try.

    This article was especially timely because my entire family just did a scene from Midsummer Night’s Dream for my daughter’s AHG troop talent show, it was a huge hit and everyone thought it was hilarious.

  4. Eva
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Several years ago my daughters started having “Shakesparties” when they were in high school. We invite a bunch of friends and read through a play with dessert at intermission. Although not all my offspring appreciate Shakespeare enough to participate, youth has not been a deterrent. At our last party a couple of weeks ago, we read Romeo and Juliet. The youngest reader was 10, our enthusiastic Tybalt was 13.

  5. Lisa Beth W.
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Don’t dumb down Shakespeare; don’t dumb down anything! Just the very word “dumb” implies something you are thinking about your child’s intellect–they are not “dumb” or anything of the sort. They can understand amazingly above what many think they can, even if they can’t express themselves in the same language. But of course you know that. 🙂

    And I can’t get over it: “Oooh! Would you look at that.”?!

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