Learning Lines

Why Shakespeare matters

October 1, 2013

Last week we launched Young Shakespeare Nation with the Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts. It's the culmination of months of planning and we're just at the start of the journey so can't all collapse in a heap!

Young Shakespeare Nation trailer imageYoung Shakespeare Nation invites schools, students and teachers to join us on our six year journey through the 36 plays that make up Shakespeare's First Folio. I'm delighted that David Tennant agreed to feature in our new trailer explaining all about the idea.

Shakespeare's place in the National Curriculum
Shakespeare's presence in the educational life of every young person in England and Wales has been assured since 1989 when the National Curriculum was first introduced. He still remains the only author that everyone has to study. Considering the controversy this generates (it's still a subject that causes headlines) it might seem a provocative move to ask schools to expose students to even more of his work. (You can find out more about the history of teaching Shakespeare in England in our report which you can download here).

The new curriculum states that students must study two of Shakespeare's plays between the ages of 11 and 14 in addition to studying his work at GCSE, so why are we inviting schools and students to go even further?

• We know there is more of an adventure to be had with Shakespeare's work than we currently allow ourselves
• We can easily get into a rut if we narrow the choice of plays down to a usual few (Romeo and Juliet again?)
• We want formative experiences of Shakespeare's work to be as vivid and engaging as possible, seeding a life-long relationship with the work, with theatre-going and theatre-making

Why it matters
Shakespeare's words are like a foreign language: the earlier we are introduced to them and the more we are exposed to them the more attuned we become, and the greater likelihood there is that the richness of the language and ideas will inform our development. But why does that matter?

We commissioned an enquiry into attitudes to Shakespeare and students' overall attitude to learning and school. We found that a students' attitude to Shakespeare changed for the better when a lesson became more like a rehearsal. And when a student's attitude to Shakespeare improved, so did their attitude to school and to learning generally.

When we expose students to complex work and give them the tools to unlock it, we change more than their understanding of that piece of literature. We can also change their aspirations and their belief in their own abilities. I have seen this happen time and again in our own work with schools across the country. If a student feels they can do Shakespeare, they feel they can do anything.

What we're doing next
So we're celebrating the potential that Shakespeare has to reveal new aptitudes in students by making more of his work available than ever before. I'm hoping that schools, students and teachers everywhere will join with us and do the same. We start with a schools' broadcast of Richard II on Friday 15 November 2013. I hope to see you there.

by Jacqui O'Hanlon  |  5 comments


Oct 4, 12:35am
Caroline Baker

Although my children are 15 and 19 now I am thrilled to see this programme being developed by the RSC.

My own school experience of Shakespeare - cough - 40 years ago - was greatly enhanced by rehearsal type learning - but even more by a visit to the NT production with Ronald Pickup in the title role.

That was it I was hooked and I never looked back. Sadly I was the only one who went to a production and there were two of us who fell in love with Shakespeare for the rest of our lives.

So the very best of best wishes for the success of this ambitious but magical programme for our 21st century kids and the extraordinary brave actors who are willing to be filmed whilst performing live in a newly evolving dual artistic format.

Oct 10, 10:03am
ian harris

Well you would say that wouldn't you? You have grants to maintain. What about Pinter,Orton etc.

Oct 11, 10:56am
RSC Staff Jacqui O'Hanlon - Director of Education at RSC

Great to hear of your support Caroline.

Ian – we wouldn’t dream of saying that Shakespeare should be studied in isolation from other great writers. We need to put Shakespeare in context by setting his plays alongside work by his contemporaries as well as work by contemporary writers like Orton and Pinter. But the fact remains that Shakespeare is part of school life for every student in the country; his work belongs to everyone. And that’s why we’ve launched Young Shakespeare Nation; because we think it will connect young people to his work and give them ownership of it. That doesn’t mean that’s all they’ll ever do. It will give them the tools and confidence to explore other kinds of theatre and other kinds of arts experiences.

Oct 22, 4:36pm
Liz McAteer

My love of Shakespeare came about because of the way we learned at school (like Caroline Baker over 40 years ago)! We would talk about the play, themes etc and then 'act' it out in class. It just brought it alive and gave us girls, from mostly working class backgrounds in Liverpool, a love of the work. Same for the Sonnets, read, discussed and fell in love with them. Let's hope this project helps to do the same.

Jun 26, 2:48am
Patrick Egan

"Why does Shakespeare matter?" is a question I hear often from students in my college classes. To a generation of Americans raised on TV and text-messaging, Shakespeare signifies nothing but the uneasy, nauseous dread of hard work with no pay-off. I share my enthusiasm for Shakespeare by showing students the beauty and power of his words and works. I applaud your "Young Shakespeare Nation" program; it is an important endeavor.

Post a Comment

Email address is optional and won't be published.
We ask just in case we need to contact you.

We reserve the right not to publish your comments, and please note that any contribution you make is subject to our website terms of use.

Email newsletter

Sign up to email updates for the latest RSC news:

RSC Members

Already an RSC Member or Supporter? Sign in here.

Teaching Shakespeare