In love with Shakespeare
Ever-younger students brave unfamiliar language and can't stop turning the pages
(Page 3 of 3)
Her group travels to about 60 middle and high schools a year, offering condensed versions of four of Shakespeare's plays. "It's not enough to read the plays," she says. "They have to see them."Skip to next paragraph
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The response, she adds, is generally powerful. "You can hear the kids gasping at certain parts."
For almost 20 years, the English-Speaking Union of the United States has sponsored a national competition, inviting about 50 high school students who are finalists to come to New York to perform Shakespearean monologues.
Michael LoMonico, the group's associate director of education, says it's always a pleasure to see the students most of whom are high achievers in many categories perform Shakespeare.
But he says he'd also like to see teachers think harder about the potential of Shakespeare to build esteem for less successful students as well. "The myth is that Shakespeare is hard," he says. "So when a good teacher can unlock that experience for kids all kids they feel really good about themselves."
Indeed, elementary schools, including ones in low-income areas, are showing signs of increased interest in introducing Shakespeare early.
"Students in Grades 2 through 6 have no fear of Shakespeare," says Ms. Field-Pickering of the Folger Shakespeare Library. "They're actually more open to the poetry."
As Marissa Powell, one of Morris's young Shakespeare enthusiasts in Newark, explains it: "The language is old English. Not everybody knows it. That makes it even more special."
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1753: "Richard III" becomes the first of Shakespeare's plays to be publicly performed in the United States.
1895: The first English literature curriculum for a New York City high school includes "Julius Caesar." For decades the play remains a popular choice for high schools because it is seen as an excellent tool for teaching rhetoric and speech, and has none of the sexual double-entendres common in many other Shakespeare plays.
1980s: A survey shows that Shakespeare is taught in 91 percent of US high schools. The plays most often read are "Romeo and Juliet" (84 percent of schools), "Macbeth" (81 percent), "Hamlet" (51 percent), and "Julius Caesar" (42 percent). Yet fears surface that a focus on multiculturalism and a move away from the European canon might begin to push Shakespeare out of high school curricula.
1990s: A slew of popular Shakespeare films appears. These include several directed by Kenneth Branagh ("Henry V" in 1989; "Much Ado about Nothing," 1993; and "Hamlet," 1996) and several by other directors. All of them feature considerable star power ("Othello" in 1995 with Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh; "Richard III" in 1995 with Ian McKellen; "Romeo & Juliet" in 1996 with Leonardo DiCaprio; and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1999 with Michelle Pfeiffer).
1995: The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington begins to note an increase in elementary schools' requests for information.
1996: The Folger Shakespeare Library initiates "Shakespeare Steps Out," a program designed to increase the presence of Shakespeare in inner-city classrooms.
1998: "Shakespeare in Love" wins seven Academy awards.
Sources: English-Speaking Union, Folger Shakespeare Library