When you think of inner-city teenagers, what springs to mind? For many, it's hoodies, video games – and probably hating Shakespeare. But my research proves that this stereotype is far from the truth.
Shakespeare holds a contested place in the English national curriculum as the only compulsory writer to be studied between the ages of 11 and 16. This imposed curriculum attempts to situate Shakespeare's plays as part of national culture, rather than purely as an exemplar of high art. But teens are rarely asked directly about their experiences of education, and about its relevance to them.
Group - Shakespeare - Language
Instead, they are often represented as a homogenous group who are bored and resistant to studying Shakespeare, particularly when it comes to struggling with the language he used.
However, my research with over 800 students in four London secondary schools offers a very different picture. I asked these 13 to 14-year-olds what they think and/or feel when they hear the word "Shakespeare" – and some of their answers defied expectations.
Students - Shakespeare - School - Comments - Plays
Many students told me that they actually enjoy studying Shakespeare in school. From comments such as "I feel happy because I like most of his plays", to "I feel excited because Shakespeare was the best writer ever […] a legend or genius", they expressed levels of interest in Shakespeare that are rarely acknowledged.
These students also did not see the language as a barrier, but as a challenge to be embraced. One commented: "I also get quite happy because we do not often look at texts with old English."
Cohort - Students - Comments - Responses - Described
In this large cohort of students, some comments stand out, showing how varied and individual their responses are. One described Shakespeare as "one of my inspirations for writing poetry", while another said that "although I don't really like English, I like his plays a lot".
Teachers seem to play a key...
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