5: Disrupting Shakespeare

Fellow, disrupters, 

We disrupted Shakespeare the week of 9/10th. Here are the summary and Twitter moment for the #DisruptTexts Shakespeare chat.  Comment below! 

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Click on the image to visit the Twitter moment.

We knew that suggesting educators disrupt Shakespeare would be a challenge for many. We were pleased to see the openness to the idea and the willingness to engage. But then again, it could be because we’re “preaching to the choir” and we acknowledge that educators hesitant to challenging thinking around the use of Shakespeare in our schools chose not to engage. The chat surfaced some valid points and great thoughts around the reasons for replacing and/or critically interrogating Shakespeare. Here are some of our thoughts around Shakespeare and his pedestal:

  • We believe in offering students a wide variety of literature and access to playwrights other than Shakespeare. That is valuable, restorative, and productive.
  • We believe that Shakespeare, like any other playwright, no more and no less, has literary merit. He is not “universal” in a way that other authors are not. He is not more “timeless” than anyone else.
  • We believe he was a man of his time and that his plays harbor problematic depictions and characterizations.
  • We believe that if you must teach him due to school policies and lack of autonomy, or choose to do so autonomously, the only responsible way to do so is by disrupting his plays. We offer our guided discussion questions as a way to begin thinking about how to #DisruptTexts.

Overall, we continue to affirm that there is an over-saturation of Shakespeare in our schools and that many teachers continue to unnecessarily place him on a pedestal as a paragon of what all language should be. Though we enjoy reading some of the plots in his plays and acknowledge the depth and complexity within many of his plot arcs and characters, we also find that educators are often taught to see Shakespearean plays as near perfection, his characters as “archetypes”, and to persist in oj indoctrinating students into a false notion of the primacy (and superiority) of the English language.

We do not see these same problematic approaches in other plays where whiteness and the male voice are not centered. The more we learn alongside teachers who are disrupting texts, the more we move away from continuing to give space to these voices; the more we want to decenter the male white voices completely, knowing that our students will read/hear of them before and after their time in our courses is over.

Furthermore, there are schools where Shakespeare is required every year, while no other author is required to be studied in such a pervasive way. Many teachers explain that he and his plays are “universal” and that “one cannot go a day without seeing a reference to Shakespeare in popular culture.” People can also argue that one cannot go a day without seeing biblical references in our popular culture. In fact, Shakespeare makes biblical references, and yet, we don’t teach the Bible each year. English classes (generally speaking) don’t require the Bible as one of the texts in its course curriculum. So, let us be honest, the conversation really isn’t about universality, nor and this isn’t about being equipped to identify all possible cultural references. This is about an ingrained and internalized elevation of Shakespeare in a way that excludes other voices. This is about white supremacy and colonization.

Considering the violence, misogyny, racism, and more that we encounter in Shakespearean texts, we offer up the notion that we can open our minds and classrooms to texts that celebrate the voices and lives of marginalized people, speak to the students in front of us, and reflect a better society.  We can do this by achieving balance and greater inclusion with the examples of excellence we place before students and by applying a forward-facing, critical lens, to these works. It is also imperative that we reflect and act to correct the messages educators and school systems send children about whose language is superior, whose stories are “universal”, and whose history should be carried into the future by means of remaining in the literary canon and thus, our societal collective consciousness.

 

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