To be, or not to be? — in schools, that is.
The question of whether to remove Shakespeare from the required reading list is what Alberta Education could be pondering after a survey of 25,000 Albertans about the K-12 curriculum found a “strong desire” to throw the Bard out.
Local opinions on this ranged from outrage to indifference.
Standing firmly in Shakespeare’s camp is Thomas Usher, artistic director of Prime Stock Theatre, which presents the Bard on Bower summer series at Bower Ponds.
There’s no question he should be taught in schools — he’s more popular than ever, said Usher, who maintains Shakespeare’s works are staged more often than any playwright’s, not only in English-speaking countries, but as far as Japan.
Themes from Hamlet, Othello or Macbeth are constantly cropping up — from Family Guy to Star Wars, maintained Usher, who questions how modern literature can be understood “without knowing where it comes from?”
Larry Reese, a Red Deer College film instructor and actor, noted a multitude of idioms come from Shakespeare (‘woe is me,’ ‘sorry sight,’ ‘charmed life,’ ‘fancy free,’ ‘mortal coil,’ ‘come what may,’ etc.) — and the Bard’s reach “goes well beyond language.”
Shakespeare’s insights into the human psyche show us that our behaviour hasn’t changed in 500 years, “and isn’t likely to in the next 1,000 years either,” said Reese.
Diana Anderson, former Red Deer museum curator, agreed his plays are timeless, noting they are still being made into movies. If students don’t study the Bard’s works, she worries they will be disadvantaged on a global level, since Shakespeare is taught world-wide.
Red Deer Coun. Dianne Wyntjes feels in this Internet age there’s still value in knowing the classics
But not everyone is convinced.
Local program administrator Brian Ennis found Shakespeare “torturous” in high school. “I can’t say it impacted my life,” he added. “I’m pretty indifferent.”
Frank Bauer, executive-director of the Central Alberta Refugee Effort, didn’t study Elizabethan plays in The Netherlands, where he grew up, and doesn’t feel he missed anything. When his son was upgrading his English class to get into college, they both found the Bard’s works dense, difficult and not overly relevant.
With so many Canadians from non-English cultures, Bauer suggested Shakespeare be relegated to history class.
Some others also found reading Shakespearean plays a slog, but still see value in ploughing through.
Kim Lawrence from the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, said she now appreciates having a basic understanding of these influential works: “They increased my general awareness of the world.”
Local rancher Penny Archibald said while plays didn’t measurably enrich her life, “they didn’t do us any harm, either … I don’t think a bit of culture hurts.”
The problem could be how the Bard is taught, suggested Red Deer College librarian and community actor Paul Boultbee, who never got much out of reading them in school.
But the plays weren’t written to be only read, he said. After seeing them performed, “they really came to life.”