Fall is in full swing and there’s plenty of Shakespeare-in-education news to share with you from the past week. Let’s to’t then!
Though the teaching of Shakespeare is only a small portion of the controversial reforms of British Education Secretary Michael Gove – who has insisted that secondary students read two entire Shakespeare plays instead of just selections – it continues to be a hot-button issue in England and occasionally even a political football of sorts. The latest headline: “Attempts to make Shakespeare’s plays cool is ‘viciously racist.’” This story in the Independent reports on a speech given by youth volunteer Lindsay Johns at the Conservative Party conference, where Johns was invited by Gove to give the Tory crowd his take on the reforms and the teaching of Shakespeare in particular. Johns, who works with teenagers in southeast London through the Leaders of Tomorrow program, slammed “vacuous PC educationalists and the hand-wringing liberals” who criticized Gove’s plan and argued:
“Hamlet doesn’t need a hip-hop sound track for young people to enjoy it or understand it. It’s been doing just fine for the last 400 years… It’s not only incredibly patronizing, but also viciously racist to think black and brown kids in the inner cities will only ‘get Shakespeare’ if it is set to a hip-hop beat and presented in three-minue, MTV Base style chunks.” (The Leaders of Tomorrow website, by the way, states that the organization aims to counter stereotypes about youth of African or Caribbean heritage and is “anti-MTV Base” and against “ghetto grammar”).
What do you think? Are hip-hop artists like Akala of Hip-Hop Shakespeare racist and misguided? Or is this another case of the arts being caught in a political crossfire?
The play is still the thing, perhaps
In the meantime, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company are positioning themselves to attempt to turn all of this into a positive, reports an article in Will’s hometown paper, the Stratford Observer. Says Jacqueline Green, Head of Learning and Participation at the Trust: “… the Trust regards the introduction of multiple Shakespeare plays at Key Stage 3 as a welcome opportunity for pupils to engage with the playwright’s craft, his story-telling and his theatrical provenance… we believe Shakespeare is and can be made accessible and valuable to all people of all ages.”
Can you imagine the teaching of Shakespeare making these sorts of headlines in the United States? Perhaps it’s fortunate we’re under the radar, lest the battle eventually lead to a government shutdown…
Shakespeare in the City of of Big Shoulders
Educators can look forward to a new resource for Shakespeare performance studies when the Chicago Shakespeare Theater issues a new collection of essays entitled, Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Suiting the Action to the Word. The book examines the company’s first 25 years with essays from Michael Bogdanov, Edward Hall, Josie Rourke and others.BBC director Tony Hall has promised to digitize the organization’s Shakespeare archives and make the episodes accessible to educators in the UK.
Soon educators may be able to access those old BBC Shakespeares digitally instead of searching for them on youtube or at the local library. In a recent speech about the BBC’s efforts to stay cutting-edge, BBC director Tony Hall promised to digitize the organization’s entire Shakespeare archives, thus making it available for free to educators in the UK. It was not clear whether this would apply to educators elsewhere, but one would hope so – though on the other hand, some of those BBC versions from the ‘80s (let’s be frank here) are perhaps better buried in a landfill somewhere like the infamous Atari E.T. game…
The Shakespeare Standard is an online Shakespeare forum dedicated to bringing the online community Shakespearean news about performance, scholarship, and multimedia every day. Please join us here at our site or on Facebook or Twitter to discuss the latest things of interest in Shakespeare news.