Think back to your freshman year in high school. You lived through moments that defined your life . . . at the time at least. Now, you probably can’t recall what they were. Think back also to your English class.
Do you remember what you read? Do you remember your first introduction to Shakespeare? As a 9th grader in the USA, you probably read Romeo and Juliet. It overwhelmed you. You had no idea what the characters were saying. Your teacher probably spent lots of time expounding upon Shakespeare’s mastery of language and all you were trying do was figure out what the hell was going on and why the nurse was so annoying.
I have vague memories of reading the play when I was 14, but now, as a Freshman English teacher, I’ve read it probably 30 or more times. I just started my third reading so far this year. I have to stagger them in my sections to avoid reading it with all my sections at one time. That would be just too painful. Not that I don’t like William, I do. It’s just that his writing includes much more than plot and for many 9th graders, understanding the plot is difficult enough without even mentioning Will’s masterful use of language.
Some of them do get it, and that makes it worth it. Others struggle through and ask, “Why do I need to know this? My life dream is to be a diesel mechanic. Will I use this?”
My answer? “Um . . . ya . . . Open to Act II.” I wish I could say that I have some profound answer that changes my students’ lives and their attitudes toward Shakespeare, but I don’t. The ones that get it, get it. They borrow my complete works of Shakespeare and read several plays on their own. I have some of these every year.
The ones that don’t get it, muddle through. I am sure that they will live perfectly successful lives as mechanics or engineers, and they will not feel a gaping Shakespearian hole in their lives.
In any case, I shared the following video with my students this year. They loved it, totally got the story and began to understand the differences in language between the Elizabethan era and their Texting world. It ended up being a pretty good introduction to the play. It made me laugh and reminded me what it might feel like to read the play for the first time, rather than the fortieth.
Even “The Three Little Pigs” in Elizabethan verbage would be tough to understand without knowing the story first. Enjoy.