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Use Shakespeare, But Let's Be Practical
CUNY's Anthea Tillyer Outlines a Judicious Policy

Anthea Tillyer, of the City University of New York, recently posted a comment during a William Shakespeare debate on the TESL-L listserv (she created the TESL-L list in 1992). Professor Tillyer graciously contributed her remarks as an article for ESL MiniConference Online.

Anthea TillyerI see great value in using Shakespeare with students. However, like everything else in any area of pedagogy, it depends on the needs and goals of the students.

While it is true that Shakespeare does not necessarily help our learners communicate with people in modern English, it gives them a cultural reference. In my experience, almost ALL students enjoy Shakespeare from time to time when introduced skillfully and judiciously. Moreoever, Shakespeare is not immortal for no reason at all - his plots are great, his characters complex and timeless, and the poetry of his language, the music of it, is apparent to thoughtful people who don't necessarily understand the underlying meaning.

I have found that students really enjoy learning the stories of the plots and then watching parts of (or all of) some of the excellent movies that have been made of Shakespeare plays. You can also play the (old-now) rock song "What a piece of work is man", which is word for word from "Hamlet" (and the musical "Hair").

In short, Shakespeare rocks! And not just for educated native- speakers. But he should be used to enrich and vary a course, not as a steady means of instruction (if you are trying to help students communicate in modern-world English)

Comment by Anthea Tillyer
City University of New York (USA)

2002 ESL MiniConference Online