William Shakespeare is the most renowned playwright of all time, and subsequently plays a significant role in both primary and secondary English curriculums. However, whilst his centuries-old plays are iconic and influential in their own right, they are, indeed, centuries old. Therefore, many teachers struggle to make Shakespearian prose relevant to their students. In today’s blog, we will share a few of our expert tips to make the Bard “hit different” with your Gen Z pupils!
What is Shakespeare Week?
Last week, from the 20th – 26th March, we celebrated Shakespeare Week. This annual, national event was dreamt up by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (on a Midsummer night, no doubt!), and gives the opportunity for teachers across the UK to dedicate a week to all things Shakespeare.
Shakespeare Week consists of projects, challenges and online events – with accessible resources aplenty! The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust works with UK schools and cultural organisations alike: “offering children and their families a variety of rich and enjoyable experiences that weave Shakespeare's works, life and times across the whole curriculum.” As the week’s events are generally aimed at primary school pupils, they often provide children with their first ever encounter with Shakespeare’s characters and storytelling.
Shakespeare Week may target a younger demographic, however, there is no doubting the pivotal role that the Bard will go on to play in their secondary school years. With Shakespeare taking centre stage of all GCSE and A level English Literature syllabuses, it is of utmost importance that KS3 and KS4 students are engaged and eager to be immersed in his world.
Have you taught ‘Macbeth’ one too many times? Are you running out of ideas to keep ‘Romeo and Juliet’ relevant? Without further ado, here are our top tips to make William Shakespeare ‘Gen Z-friendly’.
The Relevance of Shakespeare Today
Whilst there is no denying that Shakespeare’s works have achieved ‘icon’ status across The Globe (see what we did there!), 2023 is aeons away from the late 16th century. Indeed, the beauty of Shakespeare’s plays emanates from their universality – their relevance and relatability.
For this reason, his works have well and truly stood the test of time; they are continuously being revamped and reinterpreted as modern adaptations, on both stage and screen, their plots, themes and characters have influenced countless other literary works, and we even still use some of his language today!
It’s All Greek To Me
However, the truth is: many secondary school students would far prefer to be scrolling on TikTok than analysing Elizabethan English! Whilst Shakespeare’s themes – such as unrequited love, vaulting ambition and family feuds – are still relevant today, many pupils are put off by the language barrier, and immediately disengage. So, rather than reciting Shakespeare’s most iconic scenes to deaf ears, you need to ensure that your students understand the words’ meaning – before overwhelming them with analysis!
We would, therefore, advise that you carry out exercises to ‘translate’ each scene to 21st century lingo. An interactive process will encourage students to gain a better understanding of the language; for example, you could ask them to independently ‘translate’ a particular monologue into modern-day English, and then feed back to each other as a class.
How Apt It Is To Learn
What’s more, you can take this one step further; try to make Shakespeare’s plots and characters specifically relatable to the world that your students are growing up in. Whether this is comparing Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden love to their favourite ‘ship’, or exploring the gender fluidity in ‘Twelfth Night’, you are far more likely to captivate their interest if they can relate the texts to the modern day. One particular fun exercise is imagining the type of content that the characters would post on social media!
Whilst these notions may seem whimsical to some, they are a fantastic way of helping disinterested students engage, and gain a deeper understanding of Shakespeare and his characters – through a modern lens. So long as these icebreaker exercises lead to thorough analysis of the text in its original form – and there is strictly no mentioning of Caliban’s Instagram feed in exam papers! – there is no harm in trying out new and creative ways to make Shakespeare relevant to your pupils.
All The World’s A Stage
Last but not least, one of the best ways to help students engage with Shakespeare is to tackle his texts in their original form: on stage. Well, your classroom may have to compensate for a stage, but regardless, you can collectively bring his plays to life. Whether you ask your students to hot seat the characters, or to act out scenes in small groups, this will often unlock their passion and enthusiasm for the text. After all, Shakespeare was designed to be performed, not perused!
Are you keen for more hints and tips about how to enrich young minds about Shakespeare – among other subjects? Stay tuned for all the latest on our blog.