Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Why is Shakespeare Boring?

If you'd like to send me a
Shakespeare-related question, feel
free to write to:
A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a student who had stumbled upon What's It All About, Shakespeare? Their note was seeking advice on creating a Shakespeare-themed blog, for an assignment, and asked how I made a subject as "boring" as Shakespeare seem interesting.

Now, I suppose, that was a compliment, but I immediately became very defensive of The Bard. Don't get me wrong, I know it's not an uncommon opinion. However, it's one of those things I simply can't understand - like why anyone would want to bungee jump or what it is about jellied eel that some people find appealing.

How can anyone find Shakespeare boring?

Well, actually, when I stopped to really consider that question, I did find my answer. I will always maintain that Shakespeare and his works are not now, nor have they ever been, boring. But, and this is a big but (which I like; I cannot lie), Shakespeare can be made boring.

How to Make Shakespeare Interesting

Enthusiasm is contagious, so is apathy
My response to the email that began this post was not a big ol' rant about the fact that Shakespeare wasn't boring, although that impulse was within me. Instead, I explained that my posts probably didn't read as 'boring', because I don't find Shakespeare boring.

In other words, if you want to write something interesting about a subject, choose a subject that you're passionate about. Enthusiasm is a wonderfully contagious thing.

If you love something, and can explain why you love it, other people will start to see your point of view.

And that, basically, was the whole purpose of this blog. It's great if people who already like Shakespeare enjoy it, but its real reason for being is to encourage those who wouldn't usually touch Shakespeare with a barge pole to see that The Bard's plays and poems really aren't as intimidating or dull as they might believe.

So, if enthusiasm and passion can make a subject seem interesting, the reverse must also be true  And that is where we run into, "Shakespeare is boring" territory.

How to Make Shakespeare Boring?

Shakespeare can be made boring by the dull way his
plays are often taught
Although I'm a huge advocate of teaching Shakespeare in schools, I can see a rather glaring problem with it: if it's taught badly, then a whole bunch of young people are turned off Shakespeare's work for life.

What do I mean by taught 'badly'? Well, I'd argue that if the vast majority of the class comes away from an English lesson with the opinion that it was 'boring', then the teacher was doing something wrong.

Now, I was, by all accounts, a bit of a weirdo (probably still am), because I actually had quite a dull introduction to Shakespeare, but still managed to find something in it I loved. The rest of my class probably didn't feel the same way. How did we learn Shakespeare? We sat at our desks and took turns reading various parts of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

I'm sure there was a theory to this: if we heard the words out loud, we'd begin to understand them better. However, if you have a bunch of thirteen-year-olds, who can't comprehend the rhythm of Shakespearean dialogue not to mention some of the more archaic words, it's going to make even less sense than trying to read it alone. For example, a boy in my class, who'd been given Oberon to read, spoke the character's most famous line as, "I'll met by moonlight, proud Titania." It didn't even occur to him that it was nonsensical, because he didn't understand any of it. And neither did the rest of us.

The Problem With Teaching Shakespeare

Just reading Shakespeare isn't the most interesting
way to learn
Hearing Shakespeare read, or misread, in monotone voices is the best way I know of to make Shakespeare thoroughly boring.

And it seems insane that this is still the way most people learn Shakespeare, and I use the word 'learn' loosely, because I'm convinced the majority of students gain nothing from this kind of teaching.

I am convinced that if school kids were given the opportunity to watch a professional performance and, better yet, encouraged to get up and act some of the scenes themselves, they would begin to see that the themes and characters are just as exciting and engaging as any modern TV show or film.

Is this a viable option? I cannot see why not. I know that teachers have limited time, but the time they have is wasted if Shakespeare is being taught as I experienced it.

And just one last thought on why Shakespeare is boring: before trying to read one of his plays aloud, it seems fundamental to learn how to actually read Shakespeare. Looking back, it seems crazy to me that our English teacher did not spend twenty minutes, before we ever opened the play, explaining iambic pentameter and how that affects the way in which a line should be read.

While I will never agree with the statement 'Shakespeare is boring', I will submit that his work can often be made boring. And with alarmingly regularity it is made boring by the very people who introduce us to Shakespeare's work.

To find out more about why I don't believe Shakespeare is boring, take a look at What's It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.


  1. This article on Shakespeare being boring is boring in itself.

  2. I love to read many different genres but I never found anything by Shakespeare the least bit interesting.

    1. Hello, Mat.

      Thanks for your comment. Do you have a sense of why that is? Do you think it might be the language more than the plots that make the plays seem uninteresting to you? For instance, have you ever seen a modern interpretation of any of them? West Side Story, Lion King, Throne of Blood, O, Ten Things I Hate About You, Scotland PA... the list could go on and on.