High School Education Kills Shakespeare All Over Again

High school analysis of Shakespeare both misses the point of his works and causes many people to dislike them — but this doesn’t have to be the case.


Neil Dittrich, Contributing Writer

Even mentioning Shakespeare carries such negative connotations for college students that some readers may have already lost interest in this article. The idea of having to sit and analyze a play passage-by-passage while trying to grapple with the meaning of the antiquated language instills fear in me as well. That’s what most of us experienced in high school discussions of his works: tedious explanations of iambic pentameter along with in-depth interpretation of thematic imagery, which are just as exciting as they sound. What ensues is a Sparknotes-esque understanding of Shakespeare: a generic grasp on what might still be some of the most relevant pieces of literature around today. By missing the greater relevance and importance of his works, the education system has given Shakespeare a second death. 

High school discussions of Shakespeare are often limited to what is taught in the classroom, and therefore have become stagnant. We analyze the same famous lines from Hamlet as the grade before us did, and the grade before them did, and so on. The discussions have taken on a level of predictability that makes students wholly unexcited to learn Shakespeare. We already know that our class is going to spend the next hour discussing one of Hamlet’s soliloquies while trying to discern whether or not he’s mad — the conclusion is, unsurprisingly, that we don’t know. In order to move away from the eye-rolling and boredom that has become synonymous with reading Shakespeare, we need to start interacting with the dynamic quality of his poems and plays from the high school level. Shakespeare’s works are not frozen in time, and should not be treated as such. 

My enjoyment of Shakespeare has come from seeing how his work translates into my life and the environment in which I live. Shakespeare is everywhere around us. He is present in what we watch, what we read and even in the way that we talk. I feel it’s misleading when people say that Shakespeare was way ahead of his time because his works are as applicable in the 21st century as they were in the 16th. The truth is that some things, like bad leadership and non-ideal romantic situations, never change. His works not only address these relevant and difficult topics but also offer a timeless approach to understanding them. 

Unfortunately, the negative precedent that the education system sets for reading Shakespeare carries over into our later years as well. But loving and enjoying Shakespeare doesn’t need to be reserved for eccentric English majors or Tisch thespians. Read and engage with Shakespeare in a way that is most exciting and relevant to you. In due time, Shakespeare’s works will be given their necessary revival.

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