As I have stated previously in my blogs, I came to reading for pleasure relatively late in life. Certainly, as a child, I was not an avid reader. My family home was not one in which there was a regularity to reading, beyond perhaps meal recipes and the day’s TV listings in “Radio Times”. At school, reading was encouraged of course but never with real vigour or conviction, and certainly unlike the amazing approaches we see across our schools – where every day can feel like World Book Day.
As a result, my only exposure to the work of William Shakespeare came through “O” Level English Literature, within which a Shakespeare play formed a compulsory component (and the fact that we were frequently reminded of its compulsory nature was itself telling!). My class read “Julius Caesar” – the school’s choice of play for that year. I engaged with it relatively well, not least because History was my favourite subject at school and the story was one that I connected with. But, looking back, I wish we had had the opportunity to study Hamlet, or Macbeth, or Romeo and Juliet. Only later in life did I read some of Shakespeare’s greatest works. On the positive side, later in life I was able to truly connect with the themes and characters contained within those pages. The fact that my reading of his work as an adult was not a “compulsory component” also helped, I’m sure!
This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the production of the “First Folio” of Shakespeare’s collective works, produced in 1623 – some seven years after his death in 1616. The folio itself has been on display in Stratford throughout much of the year.
Understanding Shakespeare’s influence on British culture and language is an essential component of what has become known as “cultural capital” for our young people. Phrases we take for granted, from “break the ice” through “heart of gold” to “cruel to be kind” all emanate from his work, and are best understood with reference to it. Beyond that, the messages and lessons in his plays and sonnets still resonate, given the human condition remains unaltered by the centuries. How many of us as teachers have worked with children, and adults, for whom this line in Measure for Measure rings true:
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
Finally, I’ll close with sharing another quotation from Shakespeare. This time, a line from Hamlet that exemplifies why so many of us work with young people and in education. John Taylor MAT’s mission statement, that “We believe in the power of education to improve lives – and the world” was constructed on the foundations of the sentiment here:
“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
Our work should be driven by us giving our every endeavour that what each child “may be” is someone truly wonderful.
Thanks, as always, for reading.