Jane Dowson and Jo Westbrook
Shakespeare is prescribed reading at Key Stages 3 and 4 and on GCE AS/A2 level syllabuses. Approaching the Shakespeare play therefore provides a means of considering continuity and progression throughout the secondary English curriculum. The approaches to reading and responding to Shakespeare discussed here may, of course, be applied to any text. The compulsory study of Shakespeare also crystallises many of the debates within teaching English, such as: the need to balance an English literary heritage and skills model of English teaching with a cultural analysis model which includes texts from different cultures and traditions and media texts, as reflected in The National Curriculum for England (DfEE/QCA, 1999) (see Chapter 2); the contradiction of assessment by external examination at the end of Year 9 but assessed as coursework by the majority of examination boards at GCSE; the lists of pre-1914 prescribed texts in the National Curriculum. English teachers are conscious of the correlation between Shakespeare in school, particularly Shakespeare for examination, and a person's future relationship with Shakespeare. The significance of this relationship is that because Shakespeare continues to be used as an emblem of high culture and synonymously British cultural identity, a person's relationship with Shakespeare determines an individual's, and social or ethnic group's, affection for or alienation from British culture. Consequently, teachers find themselves torn between aiming for the greatest access to Shakespeare texts for all pupils and resisting the force-feeding of Shakespeare. The implications for a class-ridden pluralistic society are keen. As David Hornbook puts it:
The unavoidable identification of Shakespeare with the examination system is seen as in itself alienating and prohibitive of creative growth.
Furthermore, Shakespeare for most children is inescapably associated with social snobbery…outside the school, a routine dismissal of his plays as