The First Folio of William Shakespeare’s comedies, histories and tragedies, on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Photo published under Creative Commons 2.0.

The First Folio of William Shakespeare's comedies, histories and tragedies, on displayat the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Photo published under Creative Commons 2.0.

Alas, poor Shakespeare…

He died 400 years ago but his works continue to entertain and engage audiences.

William Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest English writer but is he really the best fit for modern education? JAMES GRUBEL reports.

ANU lecturer Dr Kate Flaherty has a long and enduring love of William Shakespeare.

Even now, she continues to find surprising new elements in the now familiar texts.

Flaherty, who teaches English at the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, became a fan of The Bard as a teenager and says she was transfixed when reading Macbeth on the school bus.

However, Flaherty acknowledges not everybody is a fan and Shakespeare's works and the language used in them is not necessarily a natural fit in modern education.

"Some people dislike it," Flaherty says.

"[But] a strong dislike is quite exciting. I'm always glad when I have students who are prepared to say 'I just hate Shakespeare'.

"Usually it is not about the content itself.

"It is often about past educational experiences that have made the person feel stupid."

In response to those who find Shakespeare inaccessible, Flaherty has some simple advice.

It must be remembered that the plays were written in Renaissance England, largely between 1589 and 1613, and were written to entertain the audiences of the day.

"He didn't write to torment 16 year olds and undergraduates today," Flaherty says.

"He wrote to make money.

"To do that, he needed to be really good at what he did. What he had to be really good at was entertaining.

"The thing that Shakespeare was working to produce was a gripping and new form of entertainment.

"Complex human stories were played out in new kinds of public spaces, including in front of paying audiences.

"Teaching Shakespeare needs to acknowledge that context, rather than handing students another difficult book to go and read."