Is Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Sophocles, Kant, Saint Augustine and other writers irrelevant in our times? Is there a delivery method that can be used in the current multicultural setting to make their work more relevant? This paper aims to answer these questions with an emphasis on the works of Shakespeare and how delivery of Shakespeare’s books would be done in the multicultural education setting.
Teaching Shakespeare in Multicultural Classrooms
There has been a movement of traditional teaching methods of literature by use of selected Western Canon, to a more diverse and open system of book selection in view of the diverse cultures the Education system finds itself under. With this shift, there exist challenges of continued teaching of Great Books of the Western Canon as more emphasis seems to be on newer and more relevant text to the learners. The question that would linger in our minds is, is Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Sophocles, Kant, Saint Augustine and other writers irrelevant in our times? Is there a delivery method that can be used in the current multicultural setting to make their work more relevant? This paper aims to answer these questions with an emphasis on the works of Shakespeare and how delivery of Shakespeare’s books would be done in the multicultural education setting.
To examine this, the paper begins with a short history of William Shakespeare so that when referring to this great author, we have a basis of discussing his works and also to understand why Shakespeare remains relevant to us at this point in history and in the future. The paper then goes on to understand the Multicultural setting of education and its impact to today’s choice of literature books and delivery of literature lessons to learner’s at different levels. Finally, the paper will apply the principals of multicultural teaching to the teaching of Shakespeare and recommend on best practices of delivery of the same. The paper also explores ways in which interest could be stimulated to read Shakespeare more among the multicultural learners. In the end the paper should give a concise guide to instructors of literature on how to approach Shakespeare as a Universal text and not part of the western canon.
INTRODUCTION TO WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
William Shakespeare was born in Warwickshire, England at around 1564. The birth date was not recorded but the baptism date is recorded as 26th April 1564. Baptism was done at infancy, mostly a few days after birth, therefore the approximation of the year of birth to be same as year of baptism is not too far off. Most of his early life is not well documented and speculation is rife on what William Shakespeare did after his marriage to Hanna Hathaway in 1582. It is however agreed that most of his works were written in the period between 1589 and 1613.
It is not known exactly when William Shakespeare began writing but his plays were on stage in London as early as 1582 (Chambers). Shakespeare was an actor with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a play company that he co-owned and which is recorded to have made him very wealthy, where all the plays he wrote were performed. In 1599, the play party had built the Globe Theater on the River Thames.
Shakespeare’s works have been classified into five categories, the comedies, histories, tragedies, poems and lost plays, (Boyce 91, 193, 513). The comedies include, Comedy of Errors, the Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, the Taming of the Shrewd among others. Histories include, Henry IV parts I and 2, Henry V, Henry VI parts 1, 2 and 3, Richard III and Henry VIII among others. Tragedies include Hamlet, Julius Ceaser, Macbeth, Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet among others. Poems include, Venus and Adonis, A lover’s complaint, the Rape of Lucrece among others. Lost plays include Love’s Labour’s Won and The History of Cardenio.
Shakespeare’s works were at the beginning are said to have had any remarkable style variation from the writing styles of the time (Clemen). In his later works, Shakespeare developed a different style that was at first criticized by the later commentators and was often damned for blending the comic with tragedy. It was not until the late 18th Century did a series of scholarly work on Shakespeare’s work begin most notably those of Samuel Johnson and Edmond Malone in 1765 and 1790 respectively. By the 20th Century, he was considered a genius writer and poet. Scholarly work on Shakespeare continues to date as he is considered one of the great if not the great writer of the Middle Ages. It was said of his works, “He was not of an age, but for all time” (Jonson 10). William Shakespeare’s works remained one of the most influential literary works of the 20th Century and his acceptance as a great writer and poet is not in dispute. In the 21 century, work on William Shakespeare is still alive and it can be said without fear that anyone who has attended an English literature class anywhere in the world must have come across work by William Shakespeare.
EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS AND ENGLISH LITERATURE
American civilization is always regarded as one of the most diversified as compared to other counter-parts. This is mainly due to the achievements of its people. And now there’s a general trend of people migrating from all ethnicities looking for food, success and peace of mind. This inclination never existed before, as the advent of 18th century saw remarkable changes that helped to transform the fate of United States, in turn affecting the whole world. Consequently, when we discuss American schools, their way of handling multicultural classrooms seems to remain frozen in time. It is a matter of great concern that the weight of taught content is not as much diversified as it should be. Therefore, the influence and successful modes of teaching English literature such as Shakespeare in a multicultural classroom needs to get conversed here.
A hundred years ago, less than ten percent of American teens had a high school degree and less than three percent actually manage to obtain a college degree. You can just imagine the might of change; these people have brought to themselves. Now, according to a precise survey report, one sixth of the total population gathers under one roof for the purpose of acquiring knowledge and the percentage is increasing with each passing day (Martin).
Now, let us throw some light on the modern schooling system. As discussed earlier, due to cultural fusion, we can’t just separate students on the basis of castes and indorse a different set of academic structure for them. Else, a law was held that every student, whether he is a Red Indian, white, or black should be treated on same grounds. There must not be any sort of discrimination with respect to his color, caste or ethnicity. This act was successfully implemented at every institution of government intervention but if we talk about the education system alone, we can easily regard it as a success and a giant leap towards democracy.
English literature is the basics of all education systems around the globe. You just cannot teach English language without emphasizing on its past, its great authors and poets, plus its effectiveness on a pupil’s mind. Likewise, once you discuss American educational system, plenty of conspiracies come into existence. Moreover, it is criticized over the choice of contents, its practicality and inclusion of historical records.
Plenty of reforms were made by every elected government but never actually left a bigger impact. There are few States such as Texas and South Dakota, which literally need some extra attention. The type of educational policies implemented in some states is totally different from one another. If you pick the course contents of English literature from two distant states, there would be hardly any chance of similarity. According to specialists of educational policies, this unequal supply chain of knowledge is the biggest blunder one can ever commit. If you observe it in a broader perspective, you will be shocked to believe a harsh truth, that when you are teaching different set of students with classified courses, then how can you imagine them to have a common viewpoint? How could they be united?
Secondly, there are two different frames of mind prevailing in the United States. First one is the common class, who get admitted to public institutions that work under the government while the others are admitted to a massive chain of privately funded, well-equipped high schools. It is feared to believe that it could create a gap between two developing societies. This phenomenon is considered as taboo for most governors. But reforms are made on continuous basis enabling the concept of partial equality inevitable.
Now, besides all these imperfections, the major point to get communicated is the course contents of English literature. Most of us are familiar with the method of education. Ironically, the way of student’s life seems to have a stagnant nature. To assume it, we take into account the way of teaching, course contents and examination policies of precious generations as compared with our younger generations. You will be shocked to know that there is absolutely no difference in approach for both. The way our grandparents were taught is pretty much same as the teaching pattern of our children. Why is it so? Why our education systems seem to have frozen in time (Wallis)? It is strange that with the advent of 21st century and all those scientific developments, we are unable to make any appropriate advancement in lower grades. Yes, it is accepted that Universities and research centers have been developed beyond imagination but what about our roots? How couldn’t our deep rooted schools seem eligible enough to change at least the course mechanism? All these questions tend to irritate us but due to excessive negligence, we are left with no choice but to address these issues.
MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE TEACHING METHODS
A multi cultural education has been defined as:
A process of comprehensive school reform and basic education for all students. It challenges and rejects racism and other forms of discrimination in schools and society and accepts and affirms the pluralism (ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities, and teachers reflect. Multicultural education permeates the schools’ curriculum and instructional strategies, as well as the interactions among teachers, students, families, and the very way that schools conceptualize the nature of teaching and learning. Because it uses critical pedagogy as its underlying philosophy and focuses on knowledge, reflection, and action (praxis) as the basis for social change, multicultural education promotes democratic principles of social justice. (Nieto 346)
For our purpose we shall use the definition of culture that we will borrow from Said’s definition in order to give us a common basis of discussion in the rest of the paper. Culture is defined as:
. . . culture is used to designate not merely something to which one belongs but something that one possesses, and along with that proprietary process, culture also designates a boundary by which the concepts of what is extrinsic or intrinsic to the culture comes into forceful play. (Said 8-9)
Any person giving instruction in any field must be aware of the cultural diversities of the recipients of such instructions, more so in literature where a writer is usually informed by the cultural setting of his/her writing. Understanding the cultural diversity would make the instructor more sensitive to the diverging view points and also to try and follow the cultural pluralism whose emphasis is for the Cultural pluralism refers to a belief that different ethnic or cultural groups should retain their heritage and culture while becoming part of mainstream culture cultural and linguistic differences are accepted by the dominant culture (Rasool 2). An educator should be able to look not only at the racial, ethnic or religious differences of his audience but also issues relating to gender, language, social status, intelligence and sexuality (Rasool 4).
The assumption of the multicultural approach to literature is the fact that if the student can identify with what they read, then they will show interest on the subject matter. If the subject matter seems detached from their interests then they would not relate to it and most probably would reject the subject matter. It is important to note that the diversity in a classroom, may pose a challenge to even a simple selection of books to be used. The educator then needs to stimulate discussion of any literature in the view of the readers and their state of mind. Rather than do away with all the pieces that are not related to the cultures represented in a class, it is more important to make the content of each piece relevant to all participants.
A clear emphasis on personal identity has been identified as another means of delivering a multicultural literature. Each individual should be respected and their views respected so that there are no superior views or inferior views but an engagement at the level of the intellect. The individual students should also be taught the value of respecting cultural diversity and multicultural setting which is a common thing the world over.
The multicultural method of study has posed a new challenge, the challenge of doing away with classical pieces in favor of the newer writers. Classical pieces are referred to as those texts that were written by writers or influenced by great thinkers and literally changed the world. They include writers like, Plato, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Machiavelli (Down). These works are becoming less and less attractive as recommended texts, (Applebee). Shakespeare formed a very large part of what every English reader was supposed to have read, it was unusual to have up to 16 texts of Shakespeare recommended, nowadays an average reader would read barely 3 such texts (Stallworth, et al ). According to Bloom, Plato and Shakespeare form a great read since reading them fosters the art of memory and foundation to cultural thinking (Bloom). Such writers are considered to have defied the rules of their times and revolutionized the way cultures think for a long time. It is argued that if classical pieces are forgotten, then there would be a dilution of the very essence of literature. It has been argued that sometimes it is not the text in question that would make the mode of instruction multi cultural, but the method of delivery and the inquiry that would be done about the literature. It would be difficult if not impossible to address every person’s preference of books in literature, but in a multicultural setting, themes could be relevant. Rather than do away with the Western Canon from the curriculum and demonize it, multiculturalists want a more truthful, complex, and diverse version of the West taught in schools, they also want schools to discuss not only the diversity and democratic ideals of Western civilization, but also its failures, tensions, dilemmas, and struggles by various groups in Western societies to realize their dreams against great odds (Rasool 26). The best approach according to Rasool, would be to embrace the classical as we move to more recent books, which would be classical in the next few years, and appreciate all literature, critic every text honestly and promote cross cutting themes.
TEACHING SHAKESPEARE IN A MULTICULTURAL SETTING
If we consider the course structure of English literature, there are plenty of institutions, who are enthralled by the excessive impact of Shakespeare’s greatest novels, plays and poetry. And on the same context, there are few, whose point of view is contrasting to the preceding ones. However, the importance of Shakespeare’s creations towards English literature can never be over-looked. And if you want your children to acquire a total grip over English literature, then you have to teach them about Shakespeare in its deepest form. There are plenty of his artistic creations that can be understood.
It’s now an accepted fact that teaching Shakespeare in a multicultural classroom could yield literate results. The way it is apprehended, is not as efficient as it should be. American has a diverse culture and can be termed as a perfect mixture of different ethnic backgrounds, but the younger generation doesn’t have such barriers in mind. They consider themselves equal possessing same rights as any of its natives. But your way of teaching Shakespeare in a multi-cultural classroom matters a lot. Obviously, every lecturer wants to present a topic in its most simplified form. But just simplicity can’t win it. You need to do a bit more in-order to make your students completely familiarized with the topic.
It is important for the instructor to understand the cultures of each learner and to appreciate the different approach used by each in analyzing situations, interpreting facts and forming opinions. This would aid the instructor to approach Shakespearian art with diverse cultures in mind. It is also wise to present text in an open and creative way encouraging those not well versed with the English language or culture feel encouraged to learn both and understand Shakespeare better. In doing this it is important to establish a system of rules to guide all learners to appreciate the contributions of each one and reciprocate the same by studying the cultures and literary works for other learners. Allowing different perspectives in class discussions could also be a great way to learn the different thinking patterns and abilities of the Shakespearian class. Sharing experiences is also good and valuable for those studying Shakespearian literature together so as to appreciate the perspectives of others.
Creating an emotionally positive environment would make the learners more open to topics raised in the classroom and lecture theaters than a tense atmosphere where emotional outbursts and misunderstandings are rife. An emotionally relaxed environment helps intellectual interactions especially when discussing Shakespearian work is more interesting and welcome in a multicultural classroom. It also assists the learners form interactions which would promote exchange of ideas and welcome new ideas. Instructors should encourage group work on different Shakespearian texts and allow the students select the books they prefer to work on and be examined on.
Shakespeare in a multicultural setting is to make each book a unique reading. Teaching of Shakespeare in a multicultural setting would sound like a very contradictory statement. Though it is widely agreed that the cultural context of a writer determines the style of writing and the message to be communicated, Shakespeare seems to have written books not basing his subject matter to England but to several places around the globe, several times and even wrote texts that related to all human being. For example, the historical text of Julius Ceaser, is based in a land that England was not part of and it depicts, happenings that took place at least 1600 years before Shakespeare was born. The indecision of Hamlet is a common day dilemma that most of us face whether in England, America, Africa or Asia. Romeo and Juliet are lovers who face cultural and social problems, this theme is dealt with every day in our theaters, and would this theme be less valuable presented by an Englishman to an African American? The better approach would be to give the impression to the learner that there is a no cultural conflict with the writer but rather to emphasize on the themes presented as Hirsch Jr. called the “meaning” of a text, that which refers to the text in cultural and authorial context, as opposed to the “significance” of the text, that which we, distant from that culture, make of it. William Shakespeare is an Englishman and as an Englishman, he wrote in the language of England at the time when he lived in England, but he communicated to all ages and to all cultures. All works of literature should be treated equally and discrimination should not exist on the authorship of this includes the Traditional canons which need to have a place in the world of literature. Frye held that all works of literature should be held in equal regard and that interpretation of such works be done in light of the pieces themselves and not on basis of who the readers are or what they believe in. Of works of literature he says,
… [W]here the organizing principles are myth, that is, story or narrative, and metaphor, that is, figured language. Here we are in a completely liberal world, the world of the free movement of the spirit. If we read a story there is no pressure to believe in it or act upon it; if we encounter metaphors in poetry, we need not worry about their factual absurdity. Literature incorporates our ideological concerns, but it devotes itself mainly to the primary ones, in both physical and spiritual forms: its fictions show human beings in the primary throes of surviving, loving, prospering, and fighting with the frustrations that block those things. It is at once a world of relaxation, where even the most terrible tragedies are still called plays, and a world of far greater intensity than ordinary life affords. In short it does everything that can be done for people except transform them. It creates a world that the spirit can live in, but it does not make us spiritual beings. (Frye 16)
The Shakespeare pieces are no different and should be read and interpreted as pieces of art not necessarily as pieces of Art from England or from a white, male in the late 17th and early 18th Century.
It is important to treat all learners equally and excellence should be expected from all learners. When presenting materials and reviewing Shakespearian text of what has been studied, all learners should be aware that evaluation would be done in the same way and good work should be expected from all learners. Achievement by any student should be recognized to encourage others to follow a good example. Improvement should also be noted and a genuine interest for all learners. It is important to be interested in each student as an individual and encourage their individual contributions.
It is important to explain the cultural background of Shakespearian writing to the intended audience before prescribing readings and writing on the works. Cultural education would assist the learners to identify with the setting of the culture they are reading about and may assist in seeing the similarities between the particular cultures and make the learners appreciate other cultures. Each Shakespearian work should have and introduction session and should include an introduction on the cultural setting of the work and the audience of the original performance. This would demystify the myths surrounding the writer and the cultural setting of the work.
“First impressions are important, especially when introducing 21-st century students to 16-century playwrights. Teachers of Shakespeare are asked to appeal to a multimedia generation that can access entertainment from around the world in a matter of seconds” (Hughes 56). We can’t help but question is it plausible to compete with everything else that is at the student’s fingertips? Can Shakespeare be taught to every person despite their needs or abilities? Should there be other priorities instead of teaching Shakespeare? With the difficulties mentioned above when it comes to teaching within multicultural classrooms it could seem pointless to spend time teaching Shakespeare instead of basic correspondence and on reading comprehension. Teachers need to look beyond the difficulties of the Shakespearean text and instead focus on how the texts can be used to help students become better learners.
A very prominent solution to teach Shakespeare more effectively and efficiently is starting to spread around the world. Over 600 schools world-wide partake in the Shakespeare School Festival. The “Shakespeare School Festival is a national, educational, arts festival that is founded on the belief that Shakespeare is for everyone, and that the plays are most accessible when a practical approach is taken” (Hughes 56). Those who have used the Shakespeare School Festival as a teaching method say that it’s “an inspirational project in which students improve their academic records and gain confidence” (Hughes 56). Other school officials also agree that the Shakespeare School Festival has a positive impact on the students involved. The educational system needs to enforce active methods of teaching. It will encourage the students to also take an active and positive role in their education.
In the end, Shakespeare is the most important aspect of literature as “any major Shakespeare play provides a class with a compact body of reading matter with which they can have all kinds of experiences that formulators of high school English programs have ever though worthy of inclusion” (Evans 1). Despite the vocabulary used, Shakespeare’s work is the best material in existence to teach critical thinking. Why would we divert our classrooms away from Shakespeare? More than ever we need to develop or become a part of an ever growing solution to effectively teach Shakespeare. His plays and other works deal with issues many of us face today and we can’t simply ignore or chose to not study the plays because we are offended. Students need “to see what is there, in the play, as distinct from merely seeing a narcissistic mirror of their own experiences and social prejudices” (Iyaseve 60). We need to use our emotions to understand what is truly happening in the text in order to gain a better appreciation not only for Shakespeare’s work but for any piece of literature.
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