Shakespeare is often written off by young people and adults alike as dull, long-winded and hard to understand. This is at least in part because we are forced to believe that Shakespeare is for the elite, the kind of people that read poetry for fun and carry books everywhere they go – I can mock, I am one of these people – but it was never meant to be that.
In Shakespeare’s time, the working classes options for entertainment were bear-baiting, drinking or the theatre. Not exactly the high-brow, middle class event it appears now. Seriously, if it is put on the same level as bear-baiting that should surely tell us something. And that something is that Shakespeare was meant to be enjoyed by the masses and that is something that I think we need to get back.
Let’s destroy this idea that Shakespeare is only for avid historians and bored school students. Shakespeare was a great writer but he was writing for the masses, not the elite.
If you actually go through his comedies you find that they are as packed full of innuendos, puns and ridiculous exchanges as many modern comedies. Some of it is straight-up slapstick. Even his tragedies have many an interesting line if one takes the time to appreciate it. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, for example, whose main purpose seems to be to make inappropriate jokes and then die. Even in his death scene does he manage a pun, that is not what I would call particularly ‘highbrow’!
The other mistake I think people make with Shakespeare is that they try to read it, this is most prominent in schools where Shakespeare is taught in seemingly endless English classes with no sense of the passion and enjoyment that it should have. If you’re lucky you might get to watch the film version, but even that is pure chance – and not necessarily any better. If we insist on teaching Shakespeare in English then we need to teach it as it is supposed to be!
Shakespeare wrote plays to be enjoyed not poured over with a magnifying glass and a fine-toothed comb. Thus, you will learn more about Shakespeare sitting in a theatre and simply appreciating the acting than you ever will sitting in a classroom.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t study Shakespeare, because his plays truly are works of genius that deserve to be appreciated, just that I feel like it needs to be studied in a different way in order to make the most of these incredible pieces of literature and to get rid of this idea of Shakespeare being high-brow.
Because I, for one, don’t think he would appreciate it!