Why We Study Shakespeare

Bona Verba from the Headmaster

On Thursday evening, as part of our ongoing Veritatis Splendor Speaker Series, we had the honor of welcoming Dr. Stephen Smith, a distinguished Professor of Literature from Hillsdale College, to explore the provocative assertion that everyone should study the works of William Shakespeare. In his talk, Dr. Smith referenced the epitaph inscribed upon Shakespeare’s Stratford Monument, portraying the Bard of Avon as “In judgment a Nestor, in genius a Socrates, in art a Vergil.” These classical comparisons, said Smith, identify Shakespeare primarily as an educator, transcending the boundaries of time to impart valuable lessons on how to live well.

One of Shakespeare’s enduring legacies lies in his profound understanding and portrayal of the complexities of human nature. Through his characters and their intricate relationships, Shakespeare explores the depths of human emotions, motivations, and moral dilemmas. Students, as they study these characters, gain insights into the universal aspects of the human experience. The Bard’s keen observations of human behavior serve as a mirror reflecting the intricacies of their own lives, fostering empathy and a nuanced understanding of the human condition. The exploration of love, ambition, jealousy, and power in Shakespeare’s plays becomes a lens through which students can contemplate and analyze the complexities inherent in their own lives and the world around them.

Shakespeare’s exploration of universal themes gives his works a timeless quality that transcends the cultural and historical contexts in which they were written. Themes such as love, betrayal, justice, and the consequences of unchecked ambition resonate across centuries. Read “The Merchant of Venice,” for example, and see if you can resist drawing startling 21st-century comparisons.

Studying Shakespeare allows students to recognize the enduring relevance of these themes in their own lives and contemporary society. The exploration of timeless themes fosters critical thinking and encourages students to draw connections between the past and present. The universality of Shakespearean themes underscores the enduring nature of human experiences and provides students with a framework to contemplate their own values, beliefs, and the world in which they live.

Most importantly, under the tutelage of an excellent teacher, Shakespeare’s stories are delightfully entertaining, especially when experienced through a live performance of the works. At Cincinnati Classical Academy, we hold a deep commitment to promoting the reading and study of the truly great works of literature, including the timeless creations of William Shakespeare. Our approach to introducing Shakespeare to students is deliberate and progressive. We begin with our fifth graders, who read Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare, offering accessible re-tellings of plays such as Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet.

As students progress through their academic years, the immersion deepens. Starting in seventh grade, students engage with the full plays, beginning with Romeo and Juliet, followed by Much Ado About Nothing in eighth grade, Julius Caesar in ninth grade, Macbeth in tenth grade, The Tempest in eleventh grade, and culminating with Hamlet in twelfth grade. This structured progression allows students to explore and appreciate the nuances of Shakespearean language, themes, and characters at a level suitable to their maturity.

On a related note, next year marks the inauguration of our drama program. Through this initiative, we plan to annually stage productions of the Shakespeare plays from our curriculum. This hands-on experience will not only deepen students’ understanding of the works but also provide a unique avenue for them to bring the timeless words of Shakespeare to life on the stage for the CLASSICAL community.

As we embark on this Shakespearean adventure at Cincinnati Classical Academy, we believe that the profound lessons imparted by the Bard will continue to shape the minds and hearts of our students for generations to come.

Torches Up!
Michael Rose
Michael Rose - Headmaster

Mr. Michael Rose

Meet the Headmaster

Mr. Rose has taught various courses at Brown University, Cincinnati Moeller, and The Summit Country Day School. As a part of his degree work in education, Mr. Rose’s research interests included the Great Books curriculum, the Paideia teaching method, and the “effects of emerging digital technology on student reading, writing, and researching.” Read More