English curricula begin to steer away from Shakespeare

The Arizona Poetry Center pays for poet’s writings, including Shakespeare, to run above the Sunlink streetcar stops for students to see while they wait.

To read or not to read? That is the question that English teachers are asking when it comes to including the work of William Shakespeare in their classes

While Shakespeare remains the most produced playwright in the theater, his work is fading from English ccourses. Students at the University of Arizona can now choose between a class on medieval writings and Shakespeare to fulfill their period distribution literature requirement.

University of Arizona English Professor Tom Willard speculates that Shakespeare will be taken out completely from class options by the time he retires. While it is introduced to students as a way to learn basic modern English, Shakespeare begins to disappear the more advanced students are in their knowledge of the English language.

“I’ve found that the English as a Second Language students tell me that they are required to take a class studying Shakespeare, but the other English students don’t have to,” Willard said.

Willard attributes this voyage away from Shakespeare to the increasing emphasis on technology and science in school curriculums.

Students don’t seem to notice the poetry above them as they wait for the Sunlink street car to arrive.

“It becomes a larger question of school curricula shying away form the humanities and all schools becoming technical schools,” Willard said. “In ancient times, pedagogy was considered either the liberal arts or the servile arts and we’re now at the point of doing servile arts only.”

These servile arts consist of the added emphasis high school and colleges have put on “practical” skills like math and science that relate to jobs like architecture and engineering.

James Nahachewsky, the associate dean of education at the University of Victoria, analyzes the trajectory of literacy in Canada. He says our neighbors up north are experiencing a similar pull back from studying Shakespeare.

“It’s in a response, not just to a shift to the servile arts and digital reading, but to the diversity of literature that’s available,” said Nachachewsky. “It’s not a dumbing down of curriculum, it’s just a recognition that there are other texts that accomplish many of the same teaching goals that Shakespeare does.”

Theater students continue to get their dose of Shakespeare. Bruce Brockman, the director of the school of theater at the University of Arizona, doesn’t think that the importance of Shakespeare in theater schooling is going anywhere. For that reason, he is sure to include a Shakespeare show in each season of the school’s schedule of performances.

“For our young actors to learn how to perform verse language, is an essential part of their training,” Brockman said. “You can find television actors, movie stars, all of them at one time or another studied Shakespeare as an essential part of their training.”

Shakespeare continues to be the most produced playwright in the world.


Brit Reid is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at britreid@email.arizona.edu

Click here for link to word document of the story and high resolution photos.

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