Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Resources Special: Shakespeare and the Tudors - Why the Play's the Thing: Resources

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Resources Special: Shakespeare and the Tudors - Why the Play's the Thing: Resources

Article excerpt

Shakespeare's works should be experienced the way the Bard intended - on stage, writes Patrick Spottiswoode.

The scores of people who walk along London's Bankside every day would find it hard to imagine that this was once a no-go area. Or at least a "why go?" area. Hardly a soul ventured on to Bankside, on the south bank of the River Thames, when Sam Wanamaker (pictured left) opened the Bear Gardens Museum in 1972 to showcase his plans for a new Globe theatre. I joined the project in 1984, and as Southwark Council had reneged on its planning agreement, the future looked bleak.

But Sam continued to plan for an International Shakespeare Globe Centre dedicated to education and performance, which he believed would transform the way Shakespeare was taught and performed in this country and abroad. Five years later, despite his desperate shortage of funds, he established Globe Education, to ensure that an education programme underpinned the Globe that would be accessible to those students not able to come to the theatre.

Sam died in 1993, four years before the reconstructed Globe opened. Fortunately, with the internet and digital revolutions, we can today share productions and practice with classrooms around the world in ways that would have delighted him.

Every English teacher knows how difficult it can be to capture the elements and energy of live performance when teaching a play in a classroom. John Marston, a playwright contemporary of Shakespeare's, apologised for printing The Malcontent. His play, he admitted, had been written to be spoken, not read. He could only hope that readers might remember the pleasure that the play had once given them when it was performed with the "soul of lively action".

Shakespeare also wrote plays for audiences rather than readers. Indeed, he adapted books published for readers into dramas for a popular theatre. Ironic, then, that many students first meet Shakespeare in a book on a classroom desk, without enjoying the "soul of lively action". Yet, if Shakespeare is to be positioned as a core author within the new English curriculum, it is essential that students are introduced to him as he intended, as a playwright and through performance. If every student is to benefit from their encounter with our most influential writer, it is imperative that it is inspirational.

I believe that everyone should have the right to be introduced to Shakespeare's plays, and school is the only place where one can ensure that this happens. But I also share the concerns of former Globe artistic director Mark Rylance regarding Shakespeare exams: he fears students being put in a position where they might "fail" Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's fellow actors would almost certainly have failed a formal exam. They were assessed daily by audiences, but unless they sneaked into the Tiring House to find the "prompt" copy, few ever had the chance to read the entire play.

The danger of "school Shakespeare" can be that what is meant to be maverick becomes mainstream. Plays that were once dangerous and alternative are subsequently deemed dull and dead. A "Shakes-fear" is instilled. Yet there has never been such an exciting time to teach or study Shakespeare at school. Theatres are devising performance-based projects to help "make the statue move indeed" and to find ways of putting the maverick back into the mainstream. Shakes-fear is prevented by innovative work in nursery and primary schools, with children meeting Shakespeare in playful schemes that nurture speaking, listening and reading skills.

The development of the craft of the arts practitioner in recent years is also helping to replace fear with excitement. …

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