Literature as a Strengthener of Character: "The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare" by Emma Smith
Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus!
The thing about drama is that everybody has to put effort in to learn their part, then they have to work together to make the play happen. Putting on a successful performance is very hard work but the buzz children get from the performance is huge and they learn that hard work is worthwhile. The play won't work without Titania, Bottom or Puck or all the more minor parts or the person who does the lighting, the scenery, the costumes. They compete for parts but work collaboratively to achieve a result and are proud of what they achieve. What better life lessons could children learn? There is bound to be a positive knock-on effect on other subjects. Any good play, or musical, will do this but Shakespeare has huge scope and, generally, a large cast. This is a wonderful initiative. We owe it to our pupils to open up to their imaginations a world beyond our own shores and time. The 'Metamorphoses' speak to us about the fluidity of identity and have so much to offer to teenagers confronting this issue in their own lives. They can be read with Jeffrey Eugenides' 'Middlesex' as effectively as with Shakespeare. Emma Smith is right to point to the importance of the Philomela story for 'Titus Andronicus', but the many rape narratives in the 'Metamorphoses' present serious ethical challenges in the classroom. In teaching teenagers (and not only) respect for others, you are teaching them respect for themselves. That's the main point of school and home; in their rapidly-changing world (i.e. their intellect, their bodies) these are mainstays. These are what enable them to contextualise the attacks of commerce on their minds. And anybody who thinks that good literature and art aren't great strengtheners of character is missing the point; of course, they are, because they improve human intelligence.
If you're into Shakespeare, read on.