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Monday, June 22, 2015

Unmasked: Why Shakespeare Still Matters.

To teens, William Shakespeare is a really old dude that died thousands of years ago.   Not only that, he writes in foreign English.  Who even uses words like thou, doth and footlicker?   (Foot what?)  Yet, in almost every high school english class Shakespeare's works are still on the required reading list.  Some veteran high school teachers like Dana Dusbiber of Luther Burbank High School believes that Shakespeare is too "white and old"  to reach a diverse ethnic class.   Seriously,  how can a multi-racial teen relate to these works?  The answer is really simple.  They relate because all the emotions, trials and loves of Shakespeare's world go beyond race or time.  They speak to humanity as a whole.   There are compelling reasons  to unmask the beauty of Shakespeare then to put it out to the curb like an antique heirloom that has become trashy and outdated.

It is disturbing to say the least, that a English teacher would want her students to only read from others who are just like them.   What happened to the idea that readers  should be exposed to an array of authors  that tell their story from a different perspectives.   Ms. Dusbiber prefers that her ethnically diverse students read books from Hispanic, African and other minority authors.  Her reasoning is that the authors offer better opportunities for students to learn about their culture and themselves within the pages of their works.  In other words, hold up a mirror and see someone just like you.  Perhaps even more frightening is she may be implying that ethically diverse teens are not capable of learning the plays?    The only way to grow is to learn more about the world, not less.   Students should be required  to  read Shakespeare from the standpoint that at least they have an exposure to the plays.  If Shakespeare is not their cup of tea, so be it.  However, at least they will have a familiarity of  one of the famous plays.

 To be perfectly honest,  Shakespeare may be a white dude who died  450 years ago (not thousands)  but his works are timeless.  The characters are just as intriguing as when they were first introduced.  What bothersome about Ms. Dusbiber's blog is that she seems to be unfamiliar with the diverse characters of Shakespeare.   Here's a suggestion  for an ethical diverse class,  read Othello. Unmask the true nature of a black man so madly in love with Desdemona and so insecure of her love for him that he allows his closest confident Iago to convince him that Desdemona is unfaithful.   There are so many layers to go through here that one finds that in the end, regardless of race, as humans deep down we are the same.   We cry the same way.  We love passionately and sometimes jealousy gets the better of us.  Does one have to be a particular race to experience any of these emotions?  Not at all.

Let's not stop at Othello.  In, Merchant of Venice we find even more passion, jealousy, discrimination and yes, greed.  Oh what tangled webs were woven when Shylock feels that he has been cheated by a Christian community that has never welcomed him. He loans money to Antonio with the agreement that if the money is not paid back on time it will be paid back in a pound of flesh.  Secretly, Shylock wants only revenge.  The Christian community of Venice never welcomed him as a Jew, so Antonio must pay.   Alas, Shylock loses out on this demand in the Venetian Courts.  Add insult to injury he loses his beloved daughter Jessica in marriage to Lorenzo, a Christian.   Again, any teen of diverse ethnic background could sympathize with anyone of these characters.  If it is the language that is a barrier, then reveal the beauty of the language by using No Fear Shakespeare.


Suffice it to say, each of Shakespeare's play can be dissected and shown to be very useful in exploring raw human emotions.  Even if it is from an old, dead white guy.   This is not to say students couldn't learn from authors such as Maya Anglou.  However, why limit the students to just one voice?  Let them experience as many as they can.  From every corner of the world, not just the ones that are familiar to them.  Great literature lives on from age to age.  That is what makes them classic and timeless.  Keep Shakespeare in the classroom and in the libraries.  If a teacher or librarian takes Shakespeare away from students that would be a great tragedy.


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