2. The Relevance of Shakespeare to Queensland Students today

For hundreds of years, the theatres of the world have resounded with the applause of audiences for the plays of Shakespeare. His words have remained popular because of their universal themes and appealing characters. But despite this popularity, what are the benefits of studying a Shakespearean play in Queensland educational institutions? These benefits can best be explained when divided into two main areas: firstly the characters and what students can learn from them and secondly, the prevailing themes of Shakespeare's works which remain relevant to this day. However, to better analyse these benefits, the language must be examined to determine whether it is an obstacle to these benefits. To illustrate these points, Shakespeare's The Tragedy of King Lear will be the focal point.

The first of the benefits to Queensland students from studying a Shakespearean work such as Lear are the characters and what they can teach students. Shakespeare's skillful characterisations offer students an insight into human nature that is seldom paralleled. Shakespeare's characters can be viewed in two ways: as a person in the events with emotion and desire, or as the representative of an attitude or theme. One such example of a character from Lear who has more than one facet is Edmund. As a character, he defines himself as a "bastard" or "base." He is bitter about this stigma attached to him, but uses it to his advantage proclaiming the 'fiery quality' of his conception. Edmund is contemptuous of the "tired bed" of legitimate Edgar and proposes that he will 'top that legitimate." On a deeper level, Edmund is also a representative of one of the central issues of the play: nature and whether following nature is normal conduct. Edmund views himself as Gloucester's natural son, more natural than his legitimate brother Edgar. He views satisfying lust and passions as natural behaviour, describing his conception as "in the lusty stealth of nature". So in The Tragedy of King Lear, Edmund provides students with a basic psychological profile of an illegitimate son and also a human manifestation of one of the central themes.

The themes of Shakespeare's plays are also of benefit to Queensland students. As maturing adolescents, learning to judge people for themselves, Shakespeare's words teach moral judgement to them. His themes broaden life experience of and demonstrate to students through the action the difference between right and wrong. An example of this from Lear is the central theme of nature, and whether following nature is normal conduct. King Lear provides as an example of what happens when a kingdom is ruled by passion and not by reason. In this play Lear becomes confused about the nature of his role as a father and demands affectations of love from his three daughters. This error is highlighted by Cordelia's statement of loving him [to the extend of] her bond. This theme is evident throughout the play also demonstrated in the subplot of Gloucester and his two sons. Edmund, his illegitimate son, is considered unnatural because of his attitude towards the values of life. His lack of ethics is his dealings in the play reflect the departure from human laws he makes. Appetites must be satisfied despite the conventions of society.

Characters such as Edmund from Lear are useful representations. These themes teach students the value of morals and that natural desires do not override the laws of society. This is demonstrated to students through the relationships of Lear and Cordelia and Edmund's view of the world.

These benefits for students studying Shakespearean plays, be they from the characters or themes, face one main obstacle. The language of Shakespeare his proved to be a difficulty when dissecting his works. There are many reasons for this experienced difficulty. Shakespeare's plays are in a literary form, and because of this are difficult to follow. The poetic style clashes with the language of today and proves [to be] a major obstacle to the benefits students can get from studying Shakespeare. There are also many sayings used, which would have been relevant to the time but now make no sense. For example, the Fool makes many references to folk songs and sayings that have no relevance to the problems of today. Problems with the diction and language of the themes can combine to become an insurmountable barrier for many students.

However, if these barriers can be overcome, there are many benefits for students [in reading Shakespeare]. Through his skillful characterisations, Shakespeare offers students deep insight into human nature. Looking deeper at his words, the themes Shakespeare wrote about can teach students a great deal about morals and the world around them. To a large extent, these are the reasons Shakespeare's works have had a continuing appeal. His deep characters teach people many things whilst also remaining entertaining. This artistic value also adds to the themes to increase [an] audience's enjoyment of the plays. The timeless and universal nature of the themes help audiences feel that the play has taught them something. This continuing appeal of Shakespeare's works can be attributed to the many benefits that his works also offer students.

by SK 893 words Exam conditions 4/6/99

The Benefits of the Bard

Studying a Shakespearean play in Queensland educational institutions can be extremely beneficial to one's education for a number of reasons.

One of these is the effect of the detailed characterisation Shakespeare wrote for in plays such as "The Tragedy of King Lear." These characters were given certain traits which allowed them to react in differing ways which in turn allows the audience to experience how others think. The themes in Shakespeare's plays such as "King Lear" are both timeless and universal. That is, they are relevant in every age across the world. Even though "King Lear" was set several hundred years [before Shakespeare's own time], its themes are still relevant in the 1990s. Many complain that the Elizabethan language used in his plays is outdated and is a difficult obstacle to overcome when it is first experienced. Although this may be true at first, it is also one of many reasons why Shakespearean plays have retained their appeal today.

The characterisation in plays such as Lear is structured such that each character has is or her own personal and very distinctive personalities. This allows the audience to see the world through different eyes. They can get a number of differing views on any particular situation and can learn from the mistakes of others, [an advantage] which can only be an added bonus for their life education.

The opening scene [of this play in particular] is integral in setting up the events of the play. From Lear's hasty action of disowning Cordelia we [can] learn a valuable lesson: think before you act. When Lear proclaimed: "All paternal care, propinquity and property of blood" he thought he was just weeding out those who were not loyal to him, he was not to foresee the events which were about to unfold that would ultimately lead to his own death. From the interactions between Edgar and Edmund, as well as Regan, Goneril, Cordelia and Lear, the audience learns the timely lesson that we should not take everything on face value. Goneril and Regan's public expressions of love proved less authentic than Cordelia's somewhat less flattering speech while Edgar trusted his illegitimate brother Edmund which Edmund was plotting against him. These are but a few of the valuable lessons we can learn from the characters of Shakespearean plays.

The main themes in many Shakespearean plays are just as relevant in the 1990s as in the 1590s. In today's capitalist society where time equals money, we often don't stop to consider what is really important to us. This theme of ignorance is a dominant one in "King Lear." Lear has spent most of his life being king and had not had enough time to care about how others lived, much as many people today are too involved in their careers to wonder about others. It was not until Lear suffered rejection and deceit at the hands of his daughters that Lear discovered such emotions as compassion and sympathy. He was overcome when he discovered Tom o'Bedlam. This was a turning point in the play. Greed, lust and a hunger for money and power are all prevalent themes in many of Shakespeare's plays as well as being the driving force behind the actions of many people in today's world. Perhaps the structure of Elizabethan society is comparable to our own corporate world.

The largest and most common complaint put forward by students studying a Shakespearean play is that the Elizabethan language is an obstacle to their understanding of the plot. Many however once they get the basic story, find it a positive challenge to follow the performance and to understand his language. Any understanding, however basic, of a language which is foreign is a definite advantage. Following a Shakespearean play is like learning a foreign language: it may appear difficult at first but once you get the general idea, the rest comes quite easily and the play becomes [more intelligible if not] more enjoyable.

The main function the language plays is in helping to transport the audience back to the era of the play. Had Gloucester walked into the barn and said, "pick 'im up mate" instead of "Good friend, I prithee take him in they arms" , the audience would have no sense that they were watching an event 400 years old.

There is a number of reasons why Shakespearean plays have retained their appeal, even today. They include: the interesting language and plot which contain many of the aspects modern audiences enjoy seeing such as violence and comedy or lost stories. One thing which sets Shakespearean plays apart from the others is the depth of the plot. Many of his works contain countless plot twists and subplots which keep the audience involved in the story. This effective tool is also used constantly in modern television shows.

The most obvious reason for the continual interest in Shakespeare would have to be the timeless and universal themes woven into many of his plays. A case in point is the recent remake of his "Romeo and Juliet" as a film. The film maker set the story in modern society with the two lovers' families owning competing hotels. Even the language was kept the same but the story still ran like a recently written film. The themes and messages and even much of the action were still relevant many hundreds of years after the original was written. It just goes to prove that nothing much changes.

It is for these reasons and many more that Shakespearean plays still appeal and form a very important part of a student's education, both in the English syllabus and in life experience, from lessons learned and obstacles overcome. Studying a Shakespearean play in Queensland educational institutions is extremely beneficial to a student's all round education.

by David P. 973 words. Under exam conditions. 4/6/99

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