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TOPIC: To all ESOL teachers who teach Shakespeare:

To all ESOL teachers who teach Shakespeare: 8 years 3 months ago #2164

  • akfarrar
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Why are you teaching Shakespeare?

Surely it is only a hangover of the old imperialistic attitude to the language as ‘belonging’ to the British – as ‘real’ English being RP and home-counties middle class? (Shakespeare Wallah + Posh Shakespeare)

Cultural superiority and blind obedience to dogmas-out-of-date?

If you think Shakespeare needs to be taught because of the ‘impact’ he has had on ‘THE’ language – you should be teaching the ‘King James’ bible too – it had a far deeper, direct and more profound impact.

Do you actually know enough about the texts and the theatre to teach ‘Shakespeare’ at all? Are you going to do more damage than good? I spend a lot of time trying to un-do outdated, outmoded and culturally loaded views of the plays imparted to students.

Strong evidence suggests Shakespeare himself never wanted the plays to be read at all – they were meant to be watched, to be listened to, to be transient and ill-defined: Why then are you making your students read the words of the plays at all (another case to be made for the poor-selling sonnets)?

The language of the texts is not the language of today – if you want to ‘illustrate’ language change, an extract might be OK – but a whole play? Why – your students are learning English for communication, surely?
If a whole Shakespeare, why not a whole Milton, or a whole Chaucer? – why not Beowulf?

They are likely to encounter the plays only in their own languages or in dubbed or subtitled films – why do they need anything more than the story for that?

Should you be using film at all – the plays were meant for the stage? Any film is an adaptation – the best, with lots of cutting.

:twisted:
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To all ESOL teachers who teach Shakespeare: 8 years 3 months ago #2165

  • Tue Sorensen
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"You don't have to agree with me!"

Once again I am very thankful for that, as I disagree with almost everything you say in the above. To pick just one thing:

It's not so much a question of the influence Shakespeare has HAD on the language as of the influence he HAS on it. Of course the Bible had a greater impact on the language; it was published back when bloody everyone were deeply religious! Even today, many more people worldwide are Bible readers than Shakespeare readers. But to an increasingly secular public that likes to read, and reflect itself in classic works of the early modern past, Shakespeare becomes more and more relevant, accumulating greater and greater influence. Several years ago a study showed that the single character that printed media as a whole reference most often now is Hamlet, whereas before (up until some time in the late 1990s) it was Jesus.

Also, I'm not really sure you can compare the type of influence that the Bible and Shakespeare have had on the language, respectively. Does a reference to something in the Bible count as "influence on the language"?

When you take language history at university, there is an entire chapter devoted to, simply, "Shakespeare", while I do not recall any chapter on the Bible (although it may well deserve one).

Shakespeare took a lot of English, Greek and Latin words, and changed them into new forms. For instance, he created the word “assassination”, which was based on a middle-eastern people then known as “assassins” (probably saracens), who were believed to be fierce killers. And he created the word “compremise”, meaning two people reaching an agreement (a common premise), which we now use as “compromise”. And he turned the Latin word “obscenus” (meaning “repulsive”) into the English word “obscene”. And he was the first to use terms like “outbreak” and “shooting star”. He also turned the word “lug” (meaning “pull”) into the now much more common “luggage”. These a just a few examples.

He also turned a lot of words around, using them as nouns instead of verbs, or vice versa. The word “dawn”, for instance, only existed as a verb until Shakespeare used it as a noun. He also created adjectives out of existing words; for instance, he was the first to derive the word “majestic” from the pre-existing word “Majesty”, and the verb “impede” from the noun “impediment”. Shakespeare was also the first to combine or contract many words into new forms which have since become common (a few examples: “cold-blooded”, “courtship”, “discontent”, “eyeball”, “love-letter”, “well-behaved” and many others).

Shakespeare's influence was nitty-gritty and detailed, it involved new and original words and usages, while the Bible's influence is more in terms of ideas and parables and other religious or sometimes poetic observations; the people who translated the Bible were not after all the kind of word wizards that Shakespeare was; they did not introduce completely new forms of words and usages, based on Latin and Greek roots; to them it was important that the common people understand the language used. Shakespeare was more interested in nuance and depth, and so could influence the overall English language on more levels. This has especially become true after secularization has set in in earnest, and the Bible is losing what influence it once had.
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To all ESOL teachers who teach Shakespeare: 8 years 3 months ago #2170

  • akfarrar
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A couple of quick points -

I don't actually say very much ... I ask a lot of questions which are based on the idea of teaching Shakespeare within the context of English as a 'foreign' language - to classes in English for Speakers of Other Languages.

This thread's originating post is specifically concerned with common issues within that world given a Shakespeare slant.

Shakespeare (and English in general) has been and continues to be culturally loaded in that world.

Re: the King James Bible - when you consider the Protestant nature of English and American society, the daily reading of that book out loud and in private, the study and thought, the copying out and the learning to hand write by copying the Bible - the motivation for learning to read (if Greer is right about Ann Hateway being able to read - she learnt so she could read her Bible) and Shakespeare's constant focus on an earlier edition ... to suggest Shakespeare had anything like the influence is a none-sense.

However, as you say:
When you take language history at university, there is an entire chapter devoted to, simply, "Shakespeare", while I do not recall any chapter on the Bible (although it may well deserve one).

... and that's the ESOL issue - anything from the Christian Bible is a 'NO NO' in many parts of the world (just a the Quoran and other religious texts are in many Christian communities - and the influence of Islamic culture on the Renaissance is greatly under-sold).

Re all the supposed 'origination' of isolated words ... it is best to limit to 'first recorded usage'. We have so many missing plays and absolutely no record of what people said ... maybe Shakespeare had a trained parrot who picked up the 'common speech' which he then listened to and used.

Language acquisition, usage and development is much greater than isolated vocabulary - and as anyone who has a wide vocabulary but no idea of how the words fit together will tell you, vocabulary is absolutely useless for communication - unless you happen to be a cartoon Neanderthal.
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