“To Read or Not To Read” – How should Shakespeare be taught in English classes? (OPINION)

“To Read or Not To Read” - How should Shakespeare be taught in English classes? (OPINION)

Cayden Justice, Guest Editorial

“To be, or not to be: that is the question.” Shakespeare is a name that every student is familiar with. Each year, students are tasked with picking apart his lengthy, cryptic writing and extracting the meaning behind each line. Each year, the same discussions arise surrounding his revolutionary writing style, unique storylines, and influence on our modern day society. My class was no different, and the flaws in his writing style made me think about the consequences of the themes in Shakespeare’s plays. 


One topic always seems to be avoided when we study Shakespeare: the image his writing portrays about women. Throughout his writing, women are described like objects as if their only value is their beauty. In fact, in the play “Romeo and Juliet”, Romeo is initially entranced by Juliet’s beauty and consistently describes Juliet as only a thing of beauty throughout the play. Juliet is never given a character trait besides being beautiful, with the exception of the line “she hath Dian’s wit” that is never proved in her character arc. Even when Juliet is lying dead in her grave, Romeo’s only words are, “Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, hath had no power yet upon thy beauty. Thou art not conquered. Beauty’s ensign yet sign is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, red and death’s pale flag is not advancèd there.” 


Additionally, Shakespeare’s writing includes multiple references to men taking womens’ virginity without consent in an attempt to prove their masculinity. In another instance from the play “Romeo and Juliet” two characters are discussing the ways in which they will demonstrate their dominance over Romeo, who is a member of their rival family. They talk about how they will kill all the family’s maids but not before raping the maids: “Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads!”. While the literal meaning of this dialogue was explained in my class, the discussion about the way the men talked about these women back then was never mentioned. By not saying anything about these problematic lines, I think that we are spreading the message that we shouldn’t speak out against issues that are still relevant to women in the present-day.


It is necessary to study Shakespeare in school seeing as though he has had a major influence on the language we use and the recurring themes we see in today’s literature. However, the discussions we have in the classroom with our teachers and peers need to shift from the traditional “what is the theme of the story?” and “how did Romeo and Juliet’s death affect their families?” to a more provoking conversation surrounding societal expectations and gender roles. Whether about “Romeo and Juliet” or about other literature that we study in school, I think that these conversations would force us as students to think for ourselves and form our own opinions surrounding inequalities that impact our everyday lives. By acknowledging these issues head-on, our generation could promote the mindset of society to shift to one that is less biased and sees more value in a person than their appearance.