Many teachers were no doubt surprised, or even alarmed, this week by new research showing that nearly a third of schoolchildren do not know who William Shakespeare is.
The survey, by market researchers Vision Critical, involved 1,000 pupils across the country aged between six and 12, and revealed that 30 per cent are unaware of the country’s most celebrated playwright, or his famous works.
The news has prompted calls from a number of well-known stage actors for a rethink in the way that Shakespeare’s classics are taught to young people, with many saying that children should be introduced to the playwright’s words through live performance, rather than simply reading them in a classroom.
Actor Jeremy Irons, who is a Children & the Arts Ambassador, said: “I think so many people are put off Shakespeare at school and like so much of drama, you have to see it in order to be moved by it. Then you begin to go back to the text and you begin to understand the world, the imagination behind those words.”
Paterson Joseph, who has played the role of Othello, added: “The classroom setting is probably, in my opinion, the worst place to come to Shakespeare first because Shakespeare never intended his works to be read in a classroom. He intended his works to be heard and to be seen.”
The future of Shakespeare
Here at Children & the Arts, we strongly believe in the power of theatre to engage children, and experiencing a Shakespearean play as a performance can, arguably, only help to enhance learning. By bringing even the most challenging of texts to life, an exciting piece of drama can have a profound effect on a child, while visits to theatres and cultural venues can also open up potentially life changing opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged young people .
However, for those who can’t get to a theatre, there are lots of excellent education resources on Shakespeare available online for teachers and schoolchildren - including the RSC, which produces teacher packs on performances, Shakespeare’s Globe and Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.
And, looking ahead, with Shakespeare’s 450th birthday coming up in 2014, and the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016, there should also be lots of exciting opportunities coming up for children around the country to get to know the Bard’s work, helping to ensure perhaps that he remains relevant for generations to come.
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