Sustaining Tradition with Inspiration from Modernity: Countering Elitism in Teaching Shakespearean Drama

Edirisingha Arachchige Gamini Fonseka


The tradition of teaching English Literature in most universities round the world has evolved in such a way that a degree programme in English is not considered complete without a component of Shakespearean drama. Yet the poetics and the noetics of the Shakespeare plays written in a 16th Century dialect have become bitter delicacies for most students, as the comprehension and personalization of Shakespeare texts remain an unresolved challenge. The traditional mechanism of teaching Shakespeare texts involves reading the lines with a glossary, comparing the meanings with influential critical interpretations, reflecting on the implications either diachronically or synchronically, and writing unguided essays on topics related to classroom discussions. Most students fail in these activities as they find it difficult to internalize the meanings conveyed by word and action in relation to the historical settings depicted in the plays. Hardly a stage production of a Shakespeare play takes place in their environments to give them an idea about the actual form of it and therefore they are destined to remain totally segregated from Shakespeare.  Unfortunately, this turns Shakespeare scholarship into an elitist pastime, and invites undue controversies from students who feel fenced off from the process. In attempting to develop solutions to the problems of teaching Shakespearean drama faced in this way, so much inspiration can be drawn from the numerous cinematic productions of Shakespeare plays. They present not only approximate models for pronouncing the lines but also lively simulations of the persons and situations concerned. Cultural commodities developed in a spirit of modernity prove effective only if they preserve the essence of tradition. There are numerous films on Shakespeare, very articulate in this sense. Therefore, using a series of exemplars developed on Shakespeare’s Othello, this article demonstrates how inspiration can be drawn from modernity in countering elitism in teaching Shakespeare.


Shakespeare scholarship; tradition; challenges; rural underprivileged students; elitism in learning literature; modernity; acculturation model; pedagogical value of films/audios; literature classroom management; sophistication

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Moderna språk - Institutionen för moderna språk - Box 636 - SE-751 26 UPPSALA
ISSN: 2000-3560