Saturday, September 1, 2012

Folger sez students don't need to learn Shakespeare bio

The Folger Shakespeare Library education department publishes a web-log titled  Making a Scene: Shakespeare in the Classroom that gives teachers advice on how to help students learn about the Bard. On Thursday, the topic of the post was "Teaching Shakespeare FAQs" that is a list of basic questions and answers about how to handle Shakespeare in the classroom. One of the questions considered basic by the Folger had to do with Shakespeare's biography:
Do I need to teach about the Globe Theatre or Shakespeare’s Life?The simple answer is “No.” While telling students that Shakespeare had three children and that he and Anne Hathaway had to get married might be interesting, it really doesn’t help them understand the plays. It’s much better to integrate some facts about Elizabethan life when they come up in the plays. So when Francis Flute protests, “Let me not play a woman. I have a beard coming” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that’s the perfect opportunity to explain the Elizabethan stage convention of young men playing the female parts.
So, according to the Folger, knowing who wrote the plays doesn't help readers understand the plays, but knowing some facts about the period helps readers understand specific aspects of the plays? Knowing SOME history is helpful, but knowing the history of the author ". . . really doesn't help [students] understand the plays."

Is this irrational double-speak the level to which a great institution is reduced in order to avoid the Shakespeare authorship controversy? Would any rational pedagogue say the same about teaching the work of Eugene O'Neill or Arthur Miller? 

We agree that teachers shouldn't perpetuate Shakespearean myths; but don't dump the search for infant truth out with the murky Stratfordian bathwater.