O Shakespeare, Shakespeare, wherefore art thou so overrepresented in our curriculum?
During one of the first AP English Literature and Composition classes of my senior year, teacher Jason Hinojosa showed a TED talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie highlighting the importance of diverse stories.
Adichie argued that reading stories by authors with a variety of perspectives and identities allows readers to better understand different cultures, countries and groups. Furthermore, seeing themselves represented in literature encourages readers to express themselves creatively, since they recognize literature is for and about them.
I was thrilled to embark on an English curriculum filled with voices from around the globe that would make me and my classmates more educated and informed citizens of the world.
Then I looked down at my copy of “Macbeth.” When it comes to realizing Adichie’s vision, Country Day still has a long way to go — and we might need to start with the Bard.
“Macbeth” is the third Shakespeare play I’ve read in high school, following “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in freshman year and “Othello” in sophomore and junior year and his sonnets freshman and senior year. This year, freshmen read “The Tempest” and juniors “As You Like It.”
Shakespeare’s work has undoubtedly left an influence on our world; I’ve enjoyed reading his plays.
But this is too much representation for a single author, no matter how important.
This year, Shakespeare’s work is covered more than that of any Asian-American (Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club”), Hispanic (Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street” and Sonia Nazario’s “Enrique’s Journey”), Native American (Tommy Orange’s “There There”) or Middle Eastern author (Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”).
There is no single Asian-American, Hispanic or Native American experience, while there is a single explanation behind iambic pentameter or the structure of a Shakespearean tragedy. Furthermore, there are no Indian or LGBTQ+ authors in the curriculum. Non-Shakespeare plays or novels could fill those gaps.
So, which Shakespeare plays must go?
First, the freshman play. There is no reason for freshmen to read the same author they will read junior and senior year.
The junior and senior class trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) contributes to the Bard’s prevalence in the curriculum and is a wonderful learning experience.
But do the plays we study at school and see at OSF have to be Shakespeare’s both years?
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has adapted other renowned works of literature, such as “Pride and Prejudice” (2018), “The Odyssey” (2017), “Great Expectations” (2016) and “The Count of Monte Cristo” (2015).
Seniors could study and see one of those novel-based productions, while juniors still analyze a Shakespearean production, or the other way around. This would free up one more slot for new perspectives.
Country Day has made great strides in expanding its curriculum to include multiple perspectives. But we can’t move forward while clinging to the Bard.
—By Héloïse Schep
Originally published in the Oct. 15 edition of the Octagon.