My educational background has turned me into something of a cultural omnivore. As an English literature undergraduate I studied everything from Beowulf to Brick Lane, while at postgraduate level I turned my attention to film. In my doctoral project I have combined my academic interests to focus on Shakespearean cinema. My work is not, however, concerned with the process of screen adaptation, but rather with the increasing cultural mobility of Shakespeare. This iconic figure and his plays can now be found in trendy advertisements, episodes of 'Doctor Who' and popular teen cinema, as well as on stage in Stratford and as part of the curriculum. In my research I have been investigating the ways in which conventional ideas and postmodern appropriations of Shakespeare coexist and interact in contemporary Britain.
In order to do this I have concentrated on the nexus point between educational and everyday experience, using two questionnaires--one for secondary school teachers of Shakespeare and one for first-year English and/or Media undergraduates--to collect a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data. The purpose of the teacher questionnaire was to explore if and how popular interpretations of Shakespeare impact upon pedagogy, while the purpose of the student questionnaire was to gauge broader patterns of consumption. In this article I want to outline some of the findings of the research and offer some comments about the possible implications. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank any readers who contributed information.
Using film in the classroom
The questionnaire results demonstrate the extent to which filmed Shakespeare has been incorporated into pedagogy. 86% of the 138 teachers who completed the questionnaire think that film adaptations of Shakespeare can definitely play a useful role in teaching his works. The figure rises to 98.5% if those who think that film adaptations of Shakespeare can play some role in teaching his works are included. All of the participants had used filmed Shakespeare in some form in their teaching. Every one of the twenty-four adaptations listed in the questionnaire had been used by four or more of the participants. On average each teacher had used 6.5 films in the classroom. Three films--Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, Polanski's Macbeth and Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet--have been employed in teaching by particularly high proportions of the participants (88%, 78% and 73% respectively).
Teachers' acceptance of adaptations as a useful resource seems well-established and widespread. The longer the career, the more films have been used. Participants who have taught for 1-5 years have used 4.9 films on average, while those who have taught for 20 years or more have used 8.7 films on average. Although in one sense it is not surprising that teachers who have been working longer have had more opportunity to employ adaptations, this data does indicate that the use of filmed Shakespeare in pedagogy is longstanding and that teachers have incorporated new materials as they became available. The relationship between institution type and film use is also interesting. In many cases the proportion of private school teachers who have used a film is higher than the total sample. On average participants employed by private schools have each used 7.1 films in their teaching.
So what reasons did the questionnaire participants give for showing filmed Shakespeare to their students? On a practical level, these teachers point out that adaptations provide a cheap and easily available way to introduce students to Shakespeare in performance, when compared to trips to see theatrical productions. The participants place this emphasis on Shakespeare in performance because they want their students to see the text as lively and mutable, influenced by artistic interpretation and historical context. There is, however, the implication within the teachers' comments that they would prefer their students to experience live stage performances rather than filmed versions, were the option available. …