Pupils struggle to relate to Shakespeare, survey finds

More than half of English teachers say their pupils find it difficult to connect to the playwright’s work

And almost half of teachers say their pupils are convinced they won’t understand Shakespeare’s plays before they’ve read even a single verse, a poll finds.

In the survey of 500 teachers, 56 per cent felt that their students found it difficult to relate to the Bard’s plays. And 55 per cent said that their pupils were uninspired by his work.

“Shakespeare is an iconic author in this country,” said Anna Lobbenberg, a member of the Discovering Literature team at the British Library, which commissioned the survey. “Teachers love teaching his plays.

“However, the language is obscure and complex. And the plays are set in periods so far away from students’ lives that students really struggle to find a way to make the plays make sense.”

Off-putting language

Most teachers surveyed said that their pupils found the play’s Elizabethan English off-putting: 60 per cent of respondents said that Shakespeare’s language was the biggest hurdle their pupils had to overcome when studying the plays.

But 43 per cent also said that their pupils were being put off the plays because of a preconceived idea that they would not understand them.

“But there are so many ways in which Shakespeare’s plays are relevant to the 21st century,” Ms Lobbenberg said. “They explore subjects like gender, cross-dressing, sexuality, ethnicity, mental health, colonialism, power and social hierarchy. These are subjects that young people feel very strongly about.”

Many of these themes are explored on the British Library’s Discovering Literature: Shakespeare website, one of many resources celebrating 400 years since Shakespeare’s birth. The British Library site includes sections on the politics, society and culture that influenced Shakespeare’s writing.

But the Bard can rest easy in his grave: while his relevance may be questioned by teenagers, teachers themselves have no such doubts. Nine out of 10 of those surveyed agreed that he was an “iconic author”.

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