It’s hard to avoid Shakespeare this year, particularly this week – the 400th anniversary of his death – and especially today at BHHS where we’re having a Shakespeare marathon. When I told my husband we were reading aloud of all the sonnets he looked at me askance. His memories of Shakespeare in school are of sitting behind a desk while the teacher droned through Macbeth. But that’s not what it’s all about, I tell him. Shakespeare’s meant to be performed, not read in miserable isolation. He wasn’t entirely convinced, but wished me good luck in my reading of the opening sonnet.
On reflection, this debate – Shakespeare in the classroom: to be or not to be? – has been around for decades. I probably would never have studied English Lit had not Mr Burnside been so brilliant at bringing Julius Caesar alive in Third Year; but someone whose experience of school Shakespeare was, in Voltaire’s words, ‘an enormous dunghill’ might understandably argue against his compulsory presence on the curriculum.
Whatever our views, we should be glad about one thing and that is the way we can take for granted that our children will be studying literature of any sort in school. While half the world’s school children study Shakespeare today, there are still 250 million children who cannot read or write. One of the most interesting celebrations of Shakespeare this year has involved the Shakespeare Lives charity partnership with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) to support their work to help more children have access to education worldwide.
At the launch event, Philip Goodwin, Chief Executive of VSO said: “When studying Shakespeare, children learn valuable lessons in love, life and creativity. However when millions of children cannot read, they become cut off from learning those lessons that literature can offer. We believe that every child deserves an education. It’s a direct route out of poverty but in many countries teachers are poorly trained and pupils are excluded from classrooms because of their gender or ability. Our volunteers work hard to improve the education outcomes of children across the world and this partnership will shine a light on the great work they do.”
The charity is asking people to share their favourite Shakespeare moment – from favourite line, to a quote, to a word, to a specific production – and use the hashtag #PlayYourPart and to visit their website and donate.
Do have a look – it’s really inspiring – and I, for one, am thrilled that Shakespeare’s legacy is alive and well and a force for good in the world. I look forward to celebrating Shakespeare 400 at BHHS tonight.