Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Shakespeare is undoubtedly one of the greatest playwrights in history and one of the most commonly studied figures in schools’ English literature curriculums all around the world. Quotes such as “ To be or not to be” from Hamlet and “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em” from Twelfth Night can easily be recognized by students. Yet, certainly, there have been numerous debates and conflicting ideas brought up regarding the statement “Should studying Shakespeare be compulsory in school?” Admittedly, his ability to express certain feelings and emotions through intriguing word choices and techniques and his ability to captivate the audience with the story cannot be denied. However, regardless of the many advocates of incorporating Shakespeare mandatorily in school curriculums, there are numerous reasons as to why Shakespeare should not be a compulsory study in schools.
To begin with, even though most people commend Shakespeare for his original stories, many of Shakespeare’s plays are by no means original pieces of work. His historical plays are merely retellings of historical events and even several of his most popular pieces of non-historical work are rewritten versions of the works of other authors who came before him. For example, Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most popular and praised plays, is based on a story from a book called Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes) that tells the stories of Danish kings. This was written by a Danish historian and author, Saxo Grammaticus, in the late 12th century, almost 500 years before the writing of Hamlet. The original story is based around the story of Amleth who kills his uncle, Feng, who had murdered his own brother, Horwendil, the king of Norway, out of jealousy to marry Horwendil’s wife and Amleth’s mother, Gerutha. This story has an unquestionable similarity to the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with even the name Hamlet being an anagram of Amleth. Despite Shakespeare’s stories being unoriginal, he is credited for being one of the most influential figures of English literature while many other great writers who are equally as, or even more, deserving of Shakespeare’s recognition go unnoticed.
Moreover, people may argue that teaching students Shakespeare can spread the appreciation of the plays to people all around the world, thereby increasing the value of his plays. However, teaching Shakespeare in schools can actually lower the value of his works mainly by defeating the purpose of those plays. Shakespeare enjoyed going to the theatre and was even a well-established actor himself. After being influenced by great authors who came before him, Shakespeare began writing his plays in 1590 and saw the potential to become a great playwright. Now, his plays are being analyzed by reluctant, desk-bound students, which is the exact antithesis of the purpose of the plays, which is to entertain the audience in the theatre. Although the plays were intended to be performed in front of an audience in a theatre, nowadays, many students are forced to appreciate the works of Shakespeare without ever getting a chance to actually watch the plays be performed. Furthermore, his comedic plays were meant for the audience to respond with instantaneous, involuntary reactions, but the same effects cannot be achieved through trying to carefully pick apart and understand the humor in the plays.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays include morals and lessons passed down from his time that people from today can learn from. In many of his plays, people try to point out important morals from the stories, but some of his plays have storylines that include aspects and themes that promote topics that may have been appropriate during Shakespeare’s time but are generally frowned upon today. In the play, The Taming of the Shrew, for instance, there is an overall theme of misogyny present throughout the entire play. Even the title of the play suggests this theme because the shrew refers to a character, Katherine, who is being “tamed,” a word commonly used to refer to an animal, in this case, the shrew, thus creating a sense that Katherine is an animal and not a person. In the play, Katherine is being “tamed” by a male character Petruchio who wishes for Katharine to be his partner. Petruchio successfully tames her and starves, humiliates, and deprives her of sleep to do so. In the end, Katherine is presumably “tamed” when she begins acting like Petruchio’s personal marionette and laughs when Petruchio wants her to and carry out other actions as Petruchio desires. Themes such as this are very evident throughout many of Shakespeare’s plays and can be unwanted and somewhat uncomfortable for students to learn about in school as well.
In addition, many students are simply unwilling to learn about Shakespeare’s plays. His plays are packed with challenging, antiquated vocabulary and stories that can oftentimes be confusing especially to young readers or second-language learners. Besides, even the audience in theatres at Shakespeare’s time did not fully understand the meaning of every single word, but they still managed to enjoy the plays through physical interpretations, which cannot be done inside the classroom, with a written script and a pen. Many students feel obligated to understand every word and every aspect of Shakespeare’s plays because his plays are such big parts of curriculums all over the world and people seem to think that it is somewhat unfashionable to think unfavorably of Shakespeare. By studying a topic that students are reluctant about, the students can lose motivation to learn altogether. Scientific studies show that some of the main causes of decreased motivation among students are lack of interest, fear of failure, and stress and overwhelm, and these signs can be noticeable in many students who are forced to study Shakespeare. Because of the high expectations regarding the knowledge of Shakespeare’s works, the students feel overwhelmed by their goal to achieve this knowledge and they believe that if they fail to do so, they will be disappointed, further increasing the reluctance to learn.
In conclusion, schools should not make studying Shakespeare mandatory for students. Overall, William Shakespeare is quite overrated and over time, his reputation has become overly exaggerated by the majority of the people who disregard crucial flaws such as unoriginal stories to undesirable themes in the plays. In addition to those flaws, many people who are trying to maintain and spread the values of Shakespeare’s plays are doing more harm to his appreciation than they realize. Schools and a big portion of our society tend to treat Shakespeare as if he is the greatest writer of all time that everyone should know about and appreciate but considering the points mentioned above, there is an obvious need for a re-evaluation on that view.