For many English teachers, the prospect of teaching Shakespeare has about the same appeal as teaching unseen poetry. In other words: none at all. Telling a class that they’re going to be spending the next half term in the company of a four-hundred year-play can often result in groans, moans, and outright rebellion. But teaching the Bard is a necessary part of the curriculum, and it needn’t be all pain. Particularly not if you choose one of these corkers to study.
Dark, brooding and bleak, Othello offers us one of the most under-appreciated villains in the canon: Iago. Driven by jealousy, Iago conspires to turn his commanding officer completely mad – and he succeeds. The play’s themes resonate just as boldly today as they did when it was first written: it offers many opportunities for debate about attitudes to race and women. Othello makes a great choice for higher-ability GCSE students.
Much Ado About Nothing
You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be seduced by the sizzling chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick as they bicker their way through this classic romantic comedy. But Much Ado isn’t all hearts and flowers: its problematic ending – with Hero reuniting with the man who publicly shamed her – is unsettling, to say the least. And the 1993 film, with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, is still a delight, 25 years on.
It may be one of the most taught (and most performed) of the Bard’s plays, but there’s a good reason for that. Macbeth offers everything: murder, sex, witchcraft, war – and a smattering of comedy from the Porter. It’s short, too, and fast-paced – overall a great choice for lower-ability or KS3 students.
Romeo and Juliet
Yes, it’s likely to raise a groan from students, but there is a reason why Romeo and Juliet is the best-known of Shakespeare’s plays: it’s a love story that has endured over the centuries. And while Romeo and Juliet themselves may be a little hard to stomach, the ranting and raving of Mercutio more than makes up for it. Plus, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film version is one of the finest Shakespeare movie adaptations ever.
The Taming of the Shrew
While the verbal sparring between Kate and Petruchio offers lots of opportunities for language analysis, there are admittedly some difficult issues in this play, particularly for modern audiences. The domestic abuse and general treatment of women is uncomfortable reading. However, it can produce some lively debates in class and some thoughtful responses from students – particularly regarding the ending. Its also easy to condense into a shorter text – making it a great choice at KS3.
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