The Importance of Studying Shakespeare

Aug 1, 2019

It is a beautiful, wonderful thing that our literary canon is becoming more diverse and robust–that stories from all over are given voice and presence.  In such a rapidly changing literary world, I’m often asked why students should even bother studying classics like Shakespeare at all, given that there are mounds of options and, obviously, everything cannot be covered within those limited high school years.

I get it.  I really do.  You should see my to-be-read list.  I’ll die long before it’s done. But Shakespeare (and other classics) are, indeed, important to any student’s education.  Allow me to elaborate:

  1. There are allusions to Shakespeare everywhere within our modern culture.

We’ve kept copious words and phrases invented by Shakespeare (or at least credited to him).  In his time, Shakespeare invented close to 2,000 words. Think his audience knew what he was talking about all the time? Probably not, but context certainly helped, and I bet they thrilled over his absurd made-up words.

Take a look at this list (or this one) to get an idea of how extensive his influence has been on our modern language.  It’s impressive, really.

  1. 2. Shakespeare’s works are part of the foundation of modern literature, and the themes and content are timeless, connecting past to present.

While studying his work gives insight into past culture and society, it also serves as a bridge between our modern time and times far past.  His works are still relevant today, addressing themes like love, revenge, social expectation, corruption, transformation, etc. It’s an important reminder that no matter how progressive our society becomes, we are still human.  Every last one of us.  Throughout all of history.  There’s something comforting about that. We can read a text that is hundreds of years old and still connect to it– even while seeing how our society has grown and changed.

Additionally, many of our current beloved book series or movies stem from Shakespearean plays and characters, and I am not just speaking of books written in English.  Shakespeare’s influence is global and far-reaching.

  1. Students need to read material that is challenging.

Material that challenges students is an opportunity for immense growth in comprehension AND in self-confidence!  Often, classical works deal with thought-provoking situations that inspire students to wrestle with questions that are imperative in figuring out who they are and what they believe as individuals.  Such stories allow for deep discussion and reflection.  Additionally, finishing a work of literature that seems lofty really is an accomplishment to be proud of, and most students feel good about sticking with it until the end.

  1. Language is ever-evolving, and reading classics encourages word study. Exposure to Shakespeare helps students see the progression of our recognizable language (if you think Shakespeare is tricky, try looking at some Old or Middle English) and gives students more contextual strength.

Classic literature helps improve vocabulary and comprehension of other texts.  It also aids in seeing the progression of punctuation, syntax, and structure within the English language.  While this may not seem important on the surface, it certainly helps when students are encountered with learning a new language or when analyzing other texts.

  1. There are thousands of resources that make Shakespeare accessible to students who may struggle with it.

Use them! Read the play, sure. But also consider a companion reader/modern translation.  See a play (they were meant to be seen after all).  Watch a movie. Don’t shy away from something just because it is difficult. In fact, that difficulty is a great reason to tackle it head on.

The takeaway here is that Shakespeare is still relevant, and his works are not boring.  Anything that is taught well can be an enriching, engaging experience, and putting effort into the study of Shakespeare is definitely worth it!

Jess Woods currently resides in upstate New York with her husband and three children. Though she spent her childhood and adolescence in Georgia, Jess has lived in eight different states and has a fondness for traveling and experiencing different regions, as each one has taught her something about herself and about community. Jess enjoys reading, writing, and all things music (ok, most things music). Teaching is the perfect career for her since she loves being able to experience an appreciation for words and story come alive within other people.