Monday, December 05, 2016

How to enjoy Shakeapeare in school

     Robertson Davies. Shakespeare For Young Players (1942) Davies loved theatre. He was a founding member of the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival. He wrote several plays, a couple of them for “young players”. His first novel Tempest Tost tells of an amateur theatre group putting on Shakespeare’s Tempest. His novels all allude to or use theatre, show business, as a central metaphor.
      This schoolbook fits in well with Davies’ enthusiasm. He takes it for granted that middle school children will enjoy acting out Shakespeare. His subtext is that this is the best method of teaching Shakespeare: the plays are scripts, not novels. His introductions to the excerpts, his notes, his directorial hints, all are designed to help the pupil have as much fun as possible. The excerpts from Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard II etc are I think well chosen: Davies argues that literature should acquaint young people with the harsh realities of life, so that they will be prepared when those realities confront them.
     The only quibble: Davies’ tone comes across as somewhat patronising these days. Long out of print, the book is still I think a model for a course on Shakespeare or theatre generally. ***

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