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San Francisco Shakespeare Company performs Hamlet with guest students from SRVHS on stage

San Francisco Shakespeare Company performs Hamlet with guest students from SRVHS on stage

San Francisco Shakespeare Company performs Hamlet with guest students from SRVHS on stage

Claudia Bistrain, Staff writer

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Shakespeare, with his many made-up words and dirty jokes that seem to always be killed by explanation, remains prominent in high school English curricula. Whether you wish his plays would have been buried with him or you’re a theater fanatic like me, Shakespeare can always be intimidating in English class.

From Romeo and Juliet freshman year to Macbeth sophomore year and Hamlet senior year, Shakespeare continues to appear in the lives of high school students. But is his presence really having a positive educational effect?  

The key to a positive Shakespeare lesson is making his plays accessible and relatable to students. SRVHS is trying to do just that by inviting the San Francisco Shakespeare Company to perform a shortened rendition of Hamlet on campus.

The response from students and teachers seemed mixed.

Kyle Nash, the theater director at SRVHS enjoyed the performance. “It was fun for students to watch, but it was hard to follow without a Hamlet background,” he said.

The real issue behind building this “background” or foundation for understanding and enjoying Shakespeare in a live setting is the language. Though beautiful, many students struggle to relate to the seemingly ancient sonnets.

Reagan Black, an AP Literature and Composition and Theatre Four student at SRVHS, says the plays “should not be read, but should be acted or at least heard out loud and presented as plays.”  

Acting out the plays and being immersed in their language rather than reading them allows students to understand the true meanings behind the plays.

Nick Jackson, an English teacher and Shakespearean actor, has students act out Hamlet in class. “Because I come from an acting perspective, the way that I understand Shakespeare is through acting it,” Jackson said.

Jackson stressed that physical involvement is better than only reading the plays. He said, “Shakespeare was not meant to be read… People were not sitting down and reading his plays as literature … It would almost be as if you sat down and read a screenplay, nobody reads screenplays but everybody goes to the movies.”

Despite tactics such as bringing in the San Francisco Shakespeare Company and physically involving students, English teachers still seem have difficulty getting their students interested.  

Theater student Logan Brubaker said that if Shakespeare “is given too much importance, a lot of students will reject it, and many dislike it anyway.”

This brings up the question of finding the balance between Shakespeare and other non-Western literature that could be introduced in English classes.

If physical involvement in the plays takes up too much class time, students can view it as a hassle to understand rather than an opportunity to learn.

The balance is delicate. If Shakespeare is brushed off as “required reading” or is not fully analyzed and understood by students, it will be a boring waste of time rather than an opportunity to explore language and writing technique. Without the proper importance, these plays could be lost.

The educational director at San Francisco Shakespeare Company, Carl Holvick, said,  “Shakespeare’s plays combine poetic language, complex characters, and meaningful stories to make some of the best theatre that’s ever been performed.” It seems it would be a great loss to many if Shakespeare was stacked beneath the rest of required high school reading.

Holvick brought up the issue of limited resources for students who wish to fully embrace Shakespeare saying,  “I wish, though, that students who are intrigued by Shakespeare and want to learn more, had more access to do so beyond reading the plays by themselves.”

Black suggested an elective Shakespeare class for those interested in diving deep into the work of one of the most famous playwrights in the world.

With effort by teachers and students, high school English classes can find a better understanding of the historical and educational benefits by finding the equilibrium of Shakespeare.

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Hunting the News For the Rest of the Pack
To teach or not to teach…that is the question