The Educational Theory of William Shakespeare
Introduction: Why Shakespeare?
William Shakespeare is credited with the creation of 38 plays, hundreds of sonnets, and a number of poems. In the British education system, the 1990 National Curriculum in English lists Shakespeare as the only author that all British schoolchildren, over the age of 13, must study (Curtis, 2008). In America, according to The Washington Post, Shakespeare’s works rank in the top 10 of high school theatre plays, and he has been on the list since the survey was first taken in 1937 (Strauss, 2010).
After all is said and done, William Shakespeare’s influence on education arises not as the result of theoretical reasoning or practical experience but instead as a result of his prolific writing. Shakespeare’s influence has shaped the education of generations of students, and it is for this reason that Shakespeare’s own thoughts regarding education are of interest. In looking at education, there are two parts of Shakespeare’s life, his childhood education in Stratford-upon-Avon and his plays, that work together to provide a larger picture of the playwright’s stance toward education.
In the fifty-two years of Shakespeare’s life, he has provided future generations coded inferences – revealed in the text of his works - that explore the enduring state of human values and concerns. Consequently, whether his humanistic approach to life was merely accidental or purposely woven into his works, he has influenced literature through the development of characterization, plot, language, and genre (Chambers, 1944 p. 35). Respected Shakespeare critic and biographer, Harold Bloom (1998), contends, “Our education, in the English-speaking world, but in many other nations as well, has been Shakespearean. Even now, when our education has faltered, and Shakespeare is battered and truncated by our fashionable ideologues, the ideologues themselves are caricatures of Shakespearean energies.” Surprisingly as it may seem, researchers have concluded that almost 20,000 musical compositions were influenced by Shakespeare (Gross, 2003). The character of Hamlet enabled Freud to, in part, develop his theories of human nature and so emphasizes Bloom’s point (Paraisz, 2006). Shakespeare’s influence, as evidenced from the examples above, is far-reaching. Where, in Shakespeare, are these seeds of education theory sown?
Background on William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was born in April of 1564 to John and Mary Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. John Shakespeare was listed as a baliff in 1568, and this position would have carried some advantages for the Shakespeare family (Wells, 2001). One such advantage was formal education. While there are no official records of Shakespeare’s attendance at one of these schools, Wells (2001) argues that John Shakespeare’s son “[was] likely to have acquired the rudiments of [his] education at a petty school, proceeding at the age of 6 or 7 to the King’s New School, an established grammar school with a succession of well-qualified teachers.”
In Shakespeare’s region, and during the years of his childhood, a child would have been expected to attend a “petty school.” These schools were run “sometimes by women as well as men, often untrained, though sometimes by university graduates down on their luck” (Wells, 2001). Between the ages of 5 until 7, children would learn basic arithmetic, how to read and pronounce English, and to write. The goal of these rudimentary lessons was to ensure that children would be able to participate in church services, as religion “played a major part in education at all levels” (Wells, 2001). After petty school, students would continue on to grammar school, join in apprenticeship, or return to their families work on farms or trades. Given John Shakespeare’s position in the community, it is likely that William Shakespeare proceeded on to one of these grammar schools until his mid-teens.
In The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, Stanley Wells (2001) describes the grammar school during Shakespeare’s time. The grammar school “offered a humanist education centered on the classic, especially Latin literature and rhetoric – Greek was taught mainly in the larger schools […] They had an arduous regime […] with their satchels around 6:00 a.m. and continuing their studies till late in the afternoon, with few holidays” (Wells, Education, 2001). Students could be expected to attend school from 6:00 a.m. until; 5:00 pm., with half days once a week, for 40 – 44 weeks per year, Here, Shakespeare was introduced to Latin, including Erasmus, Virgil, Sallust, Caesar, Horace, and Ovid. Many of these authors turn up in later Shakespeare plays, conveying their influence over the young playwright.
In addition to the formal education at the petty school and the King’s New School, Shakespeare received another type of education through his personal experiences in childhood. Shakespeare biographer Peter Ackroyd (2005) argues, “If there is one aspect of a writer’s life that cannot be concealed, it is childhood. It arises unbidden and unannounced in a hundred different contexts. It cannot be denied or misrepresented…It is the very source of writing itself” (Ackroyd, 2005). By this observation, all of Shakespeare’s childhood becomes the microscope by which to infer his experience with education, both formal and informal.
Ackroyd (2005) also notes that Stratford was more Protestant in tendency, and so this “dislike of reformed religion meant that piety was transferred from the Church to the family.” According to Ackroyd (2005), “Shakespeare must have been aware of the disparity between his familial religion and the orthodox pieties of the Stratford church; it was a difference of atmosphere more than doctrine, perhaps, but when two faiths compete the alert child will learn the power as well as the emptiness of words” (Ackroyd, 2005). Ackroyd (2005) points to the powers of observation and experience as means of shifting ideology. Shakespeare’s classes would have been held in the Church and this combination of institutions – Church and Education – would become heavily intertwined and come to represent a concrete, externally imposed “other” by which a person’s own cognitive processes must rally. This would become the crux of Shakespeare’s educational theory of experience that proposes two contrary elements must exist – the experience of the true self and the experience of the public self, the literal knowledge of the text and the personal response to the text, the limitations set forth by a person’s status and a person’s desire to challenge these limitations – for true learning and ultimately, growth, to take place.
As earlier noted, very early on Shakespeare realized the rules that governed his family were in opposition to what was publicly acceptable and so developed a public/private dichotomy that would resonate in his education, his writing, and ultimately, his values. In addition to religion, the Shakespeares were in opposition to the public in their business practices as well, as John Shakespeare was known to lend money at high interest rates, which was publically frowned upon though often practiced in private. This dichotomy between public and private provided Shakespeare yet another social avenue for his education; one that becomes paramount in looking at how Shakespeare viewed knowledge, learning, and human existence.
Theory of Value
What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?
Shakespeare’s own education background reveals knowledge of obvious academic subjects such as rhetoric, logic, and oratory, but his writing and work experience suggest that Shakespeare also valued drama, and further, the power of drama in the transformation of an individual.
To start, Shakespeare’s knowledge and use of rhetoric is unquestioned. As Stanley Wells (2001) acknowledges in The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare,
“For Shakespeare, as an incipient dramatist, the rhetoricians were no less important than the poets. The key texts here were the pseudo-Ciceronian Ad Herennium, Cicero's Topics, and the Institutio oratoriae of Quintilian. Pupils were expected to compose their own elaborate orations—an exercise that must have been invaluable to the future author of, for example, Henry V and Julius Caesar.”
Shakespeare’s heavy use of this practice indicates that Shakespeare clearly took ownership of this particular piece of instruction. As Dennis Kay (1995) similarly describes in William Shakespeare: His Life and Times, “In some schools there was a tradition of performing such plays and for making English versions of them for the boys to act.” Additionally, in their “final year they [school boys] might be asked to invent speeches on particular occasions, or to imagine what some famous person might or should have said at a crucial moment in history” (Kay, 1995. P. 31). This practice of dramatically re-writing history is clearly evident in Shakespeare’s history plays, particularly the riveting speeches that the title character, King Henry, gives voice to in Henry V. For Shakespeare, rhetoric was useful as Shakespeare wanted his speeches to exact an intended effect on an audience.
In Shakespeare’s particular school, Schoolmaster Richard Mulcaster was of particular influence with regard to drama. As Kay (1995) reported: “[Mulcaster] believed that his pupils would learn good pronunciation and develop audacity if they were taught to act. They regularly put on plays before the queen and the nobility and the gentry.” In Shakespeare’s later life, Kay (1995) draws clear connections between the dramatic plays performed in 1575 – those that Shakespeare may have watched – and the descriptions of the shipwreck in Twelfth Night. Given the lack of regard Shakespeare had for formal education, it is not surprising his strong assertion of drama – the only creative endeavor offered to him during adolescence – became a defining educational experience for him.
For Shakespeare, acting was a not a skill a person could obtain through practice, but rather an integral piece in the process of gaining the knowledge that all persons needed to develop if they wanted to understand themselves. Acting, in this sense, did not refer to acting as in a play, or on a stage, but rather in being an active agent in your own life and your own understanding of the world around you.
In As You Like It Shakespeare famously writes:
“All the world's a stage. /And all the men and women merely players /They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, /His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,/ Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms./And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel /And shining morning face, creeping like snail  /Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, /Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad /Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier, /Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,/Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, /Seeking the bubble reputation/Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,/In fair round belly with good capon lined, /With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,/Full of wise saws and modern instances;/And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts /Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,/With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,/His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide/For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, /Turning again toward childish treble, pipes/And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,/That ends this strange eventful history,/Is second childishness and mere oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
This excerpt begins with Shakespeare likening all of life to a play, thus showing how closely he aligned drama and theatre to the life of every person. For Shakespeare, there was no question about drama’s place in life, as according to him, drama is life. From this fundamental position, he then delineated other “acts” in life that made up the whole of the play. One of these was formal education, or as Shakespeare called it, “And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel /and shining morning face, creeping like snail /Unwillingly to school” (143-146). This period of formal education was absolute, but eclipsed by the whole of a person in the play of life. Formal education was subsumed by the knowledge gleaned from a lifetime of experience.
For all of the shifting scenes in life, for Shakespeare there was a singular constant source of knowledge. To Shakespeare there was no greater knowledge than the knowledge of oneself and the ability to act in a manner that was true to this self-knowledge. As Kay (1995) asserts,
“the sonnet, the soliloquy, and the long interior monologues given to male and female speakers in romance and fictions all attest to the force of the drive to selfhood. Such questions are closely involved with the theory and practice of education in the period. There were arguments about the scope and content of education and about who should receive it.”
Selfhood, here, means the formation of a self independent from outside influences. Formal education, for all its snail-like attributes, provided school children with tools such as literacy and an understanding of rhetoric that enabled them to make more self-aware decisions. For Shakespeare, the most important knowledge to possess was knowledge of yourself, and the only way to achieve such knowledge was to be an active participant in all stages of life.
Theory of Knowledge
What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? What is a lie?
As previously stated, for Shakespeare the most important knowledge was of the self. As Scholler notes (1972), “Direct allusions to self-knowledge through phrases denoting knowing oneself and not knowing oneself occur with some frequency in his dramas and poems – fifteen times altogether – and considerably more often if variations are included, such as finding oneself, being oneself, being true to oneself, and losing oneself, not being oneself, and forgetting oneself.” Shakespeare’s heavy reliance on this trope in his texts suggested a fervent belief in its certainty.
Shakespeare’s works, believing another, or having belief in what another says,
without first questioning that belief, was paramount to accepting a false
statement. As Polonius in Hamlet advises,
“Take this from this,
if this be otherwise:/if circumstances lead me, I will find
Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed/within the centre” (Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark).
As Polonius indicated, all truth was acknowledged to be true from “within” each person. For example, in King Lear, Cordelia, Lear’s daughter, refused to ply him with false flattery to win his favor. Lear then disinherited Cordelia though he admitted, “I loved her [his daughter Cordelia] most, and thought to set my rest/ On her kind nursery. / Hence, and avoid my sight! /So be my grave my peace, as here I give /Her father's heart from her!” (Shakespeare). Cordelia turned out to be the only true, loving daughter Lear had and he failed her when he believed the false words of the other sisters without first checking his own knowledge of his relationship with Cordelia. Additionally, while Lear’s feelings were hurt when Cordelia refused to flatter him, he acted with feeling, but without knowledge. Knowledge, then, is information that is received, checked against a person’s understanding, and then used to guide action. Belief is information that blindly guides action. Hamlet proved, through his belief in his father’s murder, that belief can turn into knowledge when it is properly investigated, prodded, and questioned. The idea of personal understanding implies individual assumptions and contexts, but in order for knowledge to be useful it had to be understood by the person receving the information and that understanding was colored by individual experience.
Shakespeare, given his stance on knowledge, provided his characters with tools to better understand themselves so as to better understand the world around them. Plimpton’s (1933) The Education of Shakespeare, highlights similar elements in texts that Shakespeare would have studied. The Catechism, for example, “were dialogues in the form of questions and answers which, when explained by the teachers and learned by the heart of the child, gave him his first inkling of doctrinal matters.” Similarly, the physics text popular at the time, The Ground of Artes by Robert Recorde, was “in the form of question and answer” (Plimpton, 1933). This trope of question and answer was extremely active in Shakespeare’s works and acted as a tool for characters to better understand themselves through the practice of constant questioning. As stated earlier, the existence of contraries in the works of Shakespeare acted a tool for learning, and this questioning process was one such way that knowledge became reconciled within the self.
With regard to Shakespeare’s thoughts on lies and mistakes, Rolf Soellner (1972) believes that because of Shakespeare’s Christian consciousness, he differentiated between failures of sin and failures that come with mistakes. For Shakespeare, a mistake was forgivable and in his plays, the results of these mistakes were minor and characters were expected to grow from their mistakes. Failures of sin, such as when Claudius kills the King in order to take the crown in Hamlet, are met with far graver consequences, such as death (in the case of Claudius). Similarly, Romeo kills Paris in a fit of anger though Romeo first protested, “Put not another sin upon my head/ by urging me to fury” (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet). Romeo, as readers know, met a tragic end as well.
Theory of Human Nature
What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?
Samuel Johnson, “points out that when Shakespeare began to write there was very little systematic study of the human mind and emotions” (Atwan, 1999, para. 7). Indeed, as mentioned in the introduction, Shakespeare defines what it is to be human so effectively that he influences those who later, like Freud, attempt to create such a system (Paraisz, 2006).
He often demonstrates the difference of a human from other species by emphasizing what a human is not. For instance, to lack the thoughts and emotions of a social being would make one “inhuman.” As the Duke says in The Merchant of Venice, “I am sorry for thee: thou art come to answer a stony adversary, an inhuman wretch, [in]capable of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy” (Act IV, Scene I). To deny humans the opportunity to seek knowledge, perhaps by oppression as seen in The Tragedy of Coriolanus, is to “have made them mules[…] holding them in human action and capacity of no more fitness than camels […] for bearing burdens and sore blows” (University Press, 1938).
In exploring The Art of Loving: Female Subjectivity and Male Discursive Traditions in Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Evelyn Gajowski argues that in Shakespeare's representation of heterosexual relations, his female protagonists have a view of themselves which is independent of the males around them. They engage in discursive tradition and seek knowledge of self as adamantly as his male protagonists. They speak, therefore they are. She discusses Shakespeare’s ability to see men and women as different beings but connected in their humanity. Gajowski asserts that to “be a full human being, Shakespeare intimates, is to be a relational, rather than an autonomous being” (Gajowski, 1992, p. 120).
The character Falstaff is found in three of Shakespeare’s plays: Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. He is one of the comic villains; open and candid even about his crimes. He is disloyal, self-determined, and self -observing. He has bad habits but he is necessary as a companion to the young Prince Hal and Hal’s education and development. Again, Shakespeare stresses the need for “inter-connect-ability.” Falstaff is a good example of that reinvention mentioned by Bloom. In the past, this type of character would have been merely a lesser character; a shallow buffoon. Shakespeare gives him a depth of character not seen previously in literature.
Harold Bloom believes, and argues in his book Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human, that Shakespeare has invented the modern human being. Certainly he has become the source authority of what is a human being. Hamlet and Falstaff were the two greatest personalities created by Shakespeare. Bloom argues that they, more than any other characters, represent all the characteristics of modern man (Bloom, 2010).
In conclusion, the human being, according to Shakespeare is a social creature capable of great emotion, logical thought and decisive action. A human being willing to live life to its fullest, to question and seek knowledge both of society and of self, has unlimited potential. One who ceases to question and follows others blindly or one who fails to acknowledge his true self will not realize his full potential. Again, the emphasis is always on knowledge. According to Bloom (2010)
Whether we are male or female, old or young, Falstaff and Hamlet speak most urgentlyfor us and to us. Hamlet can be transcendent or ironic, in either mode his inventiveness is absolute. Falstaff, at his funniest or at his most reflective, retains a [vitality] that renders him alive beyond belief. When we are wholly human, and know ourselves, we become most like either Hamlet or Falstaff. (p. 745).
Theory of Learning
What is learning? How are skills/knowledge acquired?
For Shakespeare, while learning can be an internally directed or externally imposed process, all knowledge must come from the self. Stanley Wells (2001), contributor to the Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, attests, “education [during Shakespeare’s time] could be acquired through personal effort as well as by formal education.” Wells points to Shakespeare’s “extensive knowledge of English literature, [the] historical writings by Foxe and Stow, of the chronicles of Hall and Holinshed and the Mirror for Magistrates, and of translations of Homer, Ovid […] and other writers must have been acquired as it were privately” (Wells, Education, 2001). Here, as evidenced from Shakespeare’s youth, learning was a matter that required active self-direction. The impetus for Shakespeare’s learning was a matter of personal choice.
The curious interest Shakespeare afforded his own studies contrasts the disdainful tone that colors his characterization of formal learning. Romeo compares the fervor his love for Juliet to the fervor with which schoolboys avoid school. Romeo says, “A thousand times the worse, to want thy light/ Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books / But love from love, toward school with heavy looks.” Mistress Page, from The Merry Wives of Windsor, recounts a similar dislike for formal learning as she remarks, “Sir Hugh, my husband says my son profits nothing in /the world at his book. I pray you, ask him some /questions in his accidence.” This was the static learning of the grammar school classroom of Shakespeare’s youth. While such an experience provided Shakespeare the abstract tools to create his works, it was the personal application of these tools that made their value transformative. Shakespeare internalized the lessons in grammar, rhetoric, logic, and oratory and was able to create his own unique inventions with this knowledge.
In Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure a character, Lucio, questions a piece of information he has just received. Though the information comes from a credible source, Lucio proclaims, “Away! Let’s go learn the truth of it!” (Shakespeare, Measure for Measure). Lucio, as it turns out, is a central character in this play whose actions drive the major plot changes. For Shakespeare, learning is an active process that an individual must “do” for themselves. Lucio, regardless of the authority of his source, must “act” on someone else’s knowledge in order to come to his own understanding. This process wherein Lucio involves himself in this investigation makes Lucio an agent in his own learning. Lucio takes the external information and transforms into personal knowledge; always the more valuable option for Shakespeare.
In contrast, in King Lear, one character remarks, “Sir, I am too old to learn / Call not your stocks for me / I serve the king” (Shakespeare, King Lear). In this sense, the character follows another blindly, without the desire to “learn” for himself, and so it comes as no surprise that this character’s role is limited and static. Taking another’s knowledge as your own without a personal investment, and without finding out its potentially transformative features, was truly a failure in Shakespeare’s view.
For Shakespeare’s characters, knowledge could be learned through first-hand experience and self-reflection. Shakespeare’s famous foils – Romeo and Mercutio, Hamlet and Horatio, King Lear and his Fool – serve this latter purpose. Marjorie Garber (2008) in Profiling Shakespeare points out that the famous debates between these foils serves an almost rhetorical purpose. While Hamlet’s infamous “to be or not to be” soliloquy shows readers internally derived knowledge at its purest – with the person being both the source of active inquiry and understanding – foils, such as Mariana and Isabella in Measure for Measure, act as two different sides of the same coin. When these two sides interact, a dialogue develops – an active exchange of ideas and information – that result in a character, or both characters, coming to a new understanding. These characters, and their existence as foils, give rise to an opportunity for learning to take place.
Shakespeare undoubtedly had his own thoughts on learning, but modern educators are less interested in how Shakespeare viewed learning and more interested in what current students can learn from his works. As Rolf Soellner (1972) argues in Shakespeare’s Patterns of Knowledge, “we [ modern readers] have become fond of saying that Shakespeare’s tragic heroes are destroyed because they do not know themselves. Surely, the indistinct hope that we can learn something from their failures is a major reason for the popularity of this phrase.” Soellner (1972) points out that one contribution Shakespeare has made is in the realm of social learning. Soellner (1972) follows his earlier point by suggesting that “Shakespeare’s tragic heroes do not know themselves; we can think of them as negative examples for us without being too obviously moralistic.” This idea of “knowing thyself” indicates to modern students that one way we acquire knowledge is through self-examination and reflection. Some characters, such as Hamlet, come to learn about themselves and understand the world around them through long, engaging rhetorical conversations wherein they question, inquire, and pose hypothetical outcomes. This is clearly the internal model of learning. For those characters without this active curiosity Shakespeare had several techniques. For the tragic characters, there was no avid foil or dramatic event to bring about self-discovery. For some characters that Shakespeare wanted to “save,” like Isabella in Measure for Measure or King Lear, there were foils or torrential events, such as a storm, respectively, that would bring these characters to self-reflection.
Given Shakespeare’s omnipresence in our modern world, he is clearly a source authority. In teaching, we encourage our students to become interpretative authorities and to interject their own powers of observation into the investigation of Shakespeare’s motives. In this way, we follow in Shakespeare’s model as we ask our students to take the abstract text of a play, some hundreds of years old, and challenge it with their own perception, thereby coming to their own, individual understanding and knowledge of Shakespeare.
Theory of Transmission
Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be?
Analyzing both Shakespeare’s plays and Elizabethan history is necessary to determine Shakespeare theory of the ultimate transmission of knowledge. Historically, the teachers of formal education in the Elizabethan era consisted of men and women, sometimes housewives, running “petty schools” in their homes for small fees. These petty schools or “dame schools” were for the very young children of the gentry. The children of the upper class had private tutors. Lower classes were basically unschooled (http://www.elizabethanenglandlife.com/, 11/27/2010).
A son of the gentry might later attend a grammar school run by a schoolmaster. Higher, more formal education was more difficult to attain. It is most likely that Shakespeare attended the local grammar school. As mentioned earlier, there was evidence he knew what it was to be a boy going to school when he would rather be doing something else. Shakespeare did not receive a university education and was teased for his lack of a more in-depth knowledge of Greek and Latin (Kay, 1995).
On the evidence of Shakespeare’s plays, he had little liking for formal schooling and often poked fun at schoolmasters and similar members of the academic elite. So for Shakespeare, the primary "teachers" came from all walks of life: the nobility, clergy, military, messengers, spies, witches, master tradesmen, university professors as well as apparitions (Oxford University Press, March 1938).
For knowledge to be gained there must first be the transmission of fact, or mistruth, that when assembled into information becomes the basis of decision-making. Shakespeare focuses on the ability or inability of his protagonists to question that information and seek out the truth before taking action. His more reflective protagonists, i.e. Hamlet, will also struggle with whether or not to take any action. Often, great tragedy will befall the protagonist who fails to investigate for himself the truth of the information he has been given, as in The Tragedy of Othello. Othello trusts unquestioningly, and as it turns out, wrongly, in Iago, who convinces him that his new bride is unfaithful. Filled with rage and jealousy (emotion), Othello doesn’t question the information received, nor does he allow for any interpretation but his own (no reflection). He ends up killing Desdemona. The real transmission of knowledge occurs here in Othello’s finding out the truth and realizing how he brought about his own downfall. (Oxford University Press, 1938)
In the Shakespearian tragedy, Macbeth, the “Bard” has Duncan (King of Scotland), Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan’s sons, and Lennox, a nobleman, praise the military campaign, engineered by Generals Macbeth and Banquo, which quashed the rebels against the Scottish King (Oxford University Press, 1938, Act I, Scene II). In scrutinizing this scene, the audience's exposure to Shakespeare's dialogue serves three purposes. First, when James VI of Scotland assumed the English throne he also became James I of England. Shakespeare's company sometimes staged their plays for the new monarch’s entertainment. Therefore the dialogue was designed to please and entertain the king. Eventually, King James I became the sponsor of the Shakespeare's theater group and the theatre group was renamed the King’s Men. (Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992). Second, the dialogue in Act I, Scene II specifically vilifies the revolutionists and sanctifies the sergeant and the Generals, Macbeth and Banquo, transmitting the information that supporting the monarch was appropriate (Oxford University Press, March 1938).
In Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I, the three witches conjure up three apparitions: the first one is "[a] head" which informs Macbeth to beware of Macduff; the second apparition, "a bloody child" tells Macbeth that no harm will befall him; and finally the third, a child “crown'd, with a tree” in his hand" explains to Macbeth that "[he] shall never vanquisht be" (Oxford University Press, 1938). The three witches continue to lie to Macbeth creating a sense of indestructibility. Based on the interrelated facts, Macbeth begins the plotting the death of the King. Readers should note that Macbeth does not question this information, but instead believes blindly and thus reveals the outcome that awaits Macbeth. (Oxford University Press, 1938)
Finally, in Macbeth, Malcolm, the son of Duncan, the King of Scotland, along with Siward, the earl of Northumberland, general of the English forces who are passing through the forest of Birnam Wood. At this point Malcolm instructs the soldiers to camouflage themselves with branches of leaves in an attempt to deceive Macbeth's spies who are trying to determine the strength of the English forces approaching the fortress of Dunsiane. The spies return to where Macbeth and his forces are waiting and give their report which is, of course, inaccurate. This is how Malcolm ultimately defeats Macbeth. A similar example of misinformation occurs when a messenger relays information to Malcolm that Macbeth's soldiers are leaving him. Malcolm discusses this information with Macduff, a Scottish nobleman, who advises Malcolm to wait and see before he makes a decision (Oxford University Press, March 1938).
Although simplistic in construction, these scenes demonstrate how the experienced soldiers repeatedly are put in the position of teacher in order to share their specialized knowledge to the inexperienced soldiers (students) i.e. how to use material for concealment to prevent spies from reporting the true size of the approaching forces and not to make hasty decisions in battle. Shakespeare here isn’t just concerned with the pursuit of self-knowledge but the willingness to acquire knowledge of a practical from a credible authority. As this advice is taken and proves to be useful, the “students” will internalize the information. This is the transmission of knowledge, taking information, testing it, and making it your own for future use. Here the information gatherers were the spies, the soldiers, and Malcolm; the teachers were the more experienced soldiers, and Macduff. The method of transmission was through example and experience and the curriculum was all observable actions, traditions, events and discourse both socially and internally.
Theory of Society
What is Society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?
As one reads or attends Shakespeare's plays, one realizes that his works represent the society in which he was familiar. During his career, Shakespeare experienced both the Elizabethan (1533 - 1603) and Jacobean (1603 - 1625) periods which were conservative in nature and relatively free of internal strife within the social order, except for the failed Gunpowder Plot planned by Guy Fawkes (Elizabethan England Life, 2010). The reigning monarch, initially Elizabeth I and then James I, directed the politics, religious, and educational activities of the country. However, the real fabric of the society was determined by the relationships between men and women; the view being that males were dominate and females were submissive. That was the accepted view but not totally accurate to how things were in some classes. Certainly, Queen Elizabeth was not seen as subservient. However, had she married, she would have been expected to be subservient to her spouse who would then control England. Finally, much like in our modern society, relationships were based on income, family, education, home and fashion (http://www.elizabethanenglandlife.com/, 11/27/2010).
Throughout Shakespeare's ten historical plays from King John through Henry VIII, Shakespeare excelled at exposing the human condition fraught with fragilities and moral conflicts. Shakespeare exposed seemingly inborn human tendencies which seemed to naturally permeate human society. Shakespeare used these ‘humanistic tendencies” to manipulate the emotions of his audience and to draw them into his contrived or recreated historical power struggles. The resulting entertainment engaged the audience as well as educated them on the workings of society, particularly the upper class. His historical plays inspired a national pride and connection among all classes, unified in their shared history. His characters’ struggles and relationships had a universal appeal and in effect, taught manners and accepted modes of behavior. The dialogue, peppered with new words, inspired repetition and usage to the point of “creating” a standardization of the English language.
As audiences watch his plays, they witnessed the positive aspects of supporting and maintaining a stable government (Scotland in Macbeth). They saw the dangers of mob rule and anarchy (Rome in Julius Caesar). They saw the tragedy that came with disobeying parents (Romeo and Juliet) as well as the harm that comes from maintaining foolish feuds ( also Romeo and Juliet ).
Shakespeare's plays and sonnets were written in patriarchal society - male dominated/female submissive. Yet Shakespeare constantly contrasts what society says and what society does. Bloom uses a dichotomy of “daughters and nieces”. These groups are skewed to reflect that while most women (daughters) acted submissively, there was a minority (nieces) that demonstrated greater self-determination in contrast to the submissiveness expected by society (Bloom, 1998).
Like dutiful daughters, these women submitted to patriarchal repression by submitting to grandfathers, fathers, brothers, uncles and upper class men. For instance, perhaps the best example of a “daughter” character in Shakespearean comedy is the role of Hero in the comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Hero is completely under the control of her father, Leonato, especially with regard to courtship. Leonato is under the impression that the prince of Arragon, Don Pedro, intends to marry Hero. Leonato tell Hero that regardless of their (Hero and Don Pedro) differences, she should welcome Don Pedro’s entreaties (Laws, n.d.). As Leonato advises, “Daughter, remember what I told you: if the Prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer.” (Oxford University Press, 1938). Thus, we see that Leonato controls not only Hero’s actions, but even her words as well.
The opposite of the dutiful daughter was the self-willed niece. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hermia, the daughter of Egeus, tells Thereus, Duke of Athens, "…The worst that may befall me in this case, If I refuse to wed Demetrius" (Oxford University Press, March 1938). In this interaction, Hermia is telling Thereus that she is not going to marry Demetrius, period. Hermia is clearly defying her father, Egeus, wishes (Jenkins, 2010).
Theory of Opportunity
Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?
Shakespeare would theorize that everyone take advantage of any opportunities that life offered. He would likely support anyone with the wit to grasp knowledge to accumulate as much knowledge as possible. The more you learn from your mistakes and experiences, the closer you come to self-knowledge. The more you learn of people and society, the more power you can control and the flexibility you have within that society.
Shakespeare, however, would also be very clear that education is not the same as “schooling”. Shakespeare often belittles the idea of “schools” and the pedagogues that ran them, finding them highly suspect and untrustworthy. It is important, though, to remember that there is a good chance that all that marvelous talent might have gone to waste had little William Shakespeare not ever learned to read or write. He might never have found such a wonderful outlet for self-expression. An aware Shakespeare would have to admit that, just as everyone should have the chance to seek knowledge, everyone should have a chance to be schooled. This is different than saying everyone should be schooled.
Shakespeare was born at a time the Renaissance was spreading from continental Europe to England. There was new interest in Greek and Roman culture and philosophy and this affected English language, literature, and culture, especially at court. The ability to fight and use weapons became less important, as the knowledge and skills of the mind became paramount. Charles Beauclerk, a writer and student of history wrote “A wave of young noblemen poured into Oxford and Cambridge to avail themselves of the new learning.” (Beauclerk, 2010 p. 61). Shakespeare, as we know, was not one of those young men but he managed to avail himself of the new learning as well. (Beauclerk, 2010)
Beauclerk quotes historian Lawrence Stone “In this first, heroic, phase of the educational revolution, peers and gentry possessed an enthusiasm for pure scholarship that far outran the practical needs of an administrative elite. (p. 63)” The middle class was growing and opportunities of all sorts abounded. The new businessmen of England recognized a need for education for practical reasons. Language and the ability to read and write were to become more essential in business. This desire for discovery led to more than just practical schooling (Beauclerk, 2010).
With the rediscoveries of Greek and Roman culture, the increase in travel, the discovery of new worlds in the west, and a stable economy, England was ripe for a golden age. People were having more leisure time. They could invest in theatre, in art and in music. This is how it came to be that William Shakespeare, raised to be a businessman in a quiet town, soon found himself in the company of actors, in the heart of London, writing plays and poems for a living while his wife ran the family business back in Stratford. We do not usually envision the roles of people in Elizabethan England this way but it is certainly an example of people making what they can of the opportunities in life as well as reaching for the limits of their potential (Kay, 1995).
Theory of Consensus
Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?
According to the Lexicon Webster Dictionary, consensus can be defined as “a general agreement or concord, a majority of opinion (The English-Language Institute of America, Inc., 1977). The Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary adds the concept of “unanimity, group solidarity” (Merriam-Webster, 2010). Through his plays, Shakespeare was able to demonstrate the importance of consensus building, especially in politics. Harold Bloom refers to Coriolanus as Shakespeare’s political play. In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Bloom is more concerned about the ability of the writer to take as a protagonist, “a battering ram of a soldier…the greatest killing machine in all of Shakespeare” (Bloom, 1998) and make him a character with whom the audience can, at times, sympathize. However, another Shakespeare Scholar, Ann Kaegi, is more fascinated by the political debates that comprise the bulk of the tragedy. In her article, “How Apply You This? Conflict and Consensus in Coriolanus,” written for Shakespeare: Journal of the British Shakespeare Association, Kaegi writes:
For in Shakespeare's last Plutarchan Roman play appeals to consensus do not just co-exist with ideological conflict, at a crucial juncture their use by common citizens transforms the aristocratic city-state into a republic with a mixed constitution. The subsequent banishment of Coriolanus as a “traitorous innovator” further illustrates how, in a culture of consensus, defenders of a pre-existing political settlement can find themselves branded traitors should a new accord take shape to which they remain publicly opposed. It also attests to the skill with which the newly created tribunes employ a language of consensus to isolate their political adversary. (Kaegi, 2008, pp. 362-378)
Consensus is seen not as a goal but as a tool. The people are angry at Coriolanus. He believes the people to be ungrateful; they view him as apart and uncaring of their predicament. They clearly value different things. It’s Coriolanus who resorts to name-calling and reification. William Hazlett is quoted with saying “Coriolanus complains of the fickleness of the people: yet, the instant he cannot gratify his pride and obstinacy at their expense, he turns his arms against his country” (Bloom, 1998).
In Act I: Scene I, we see a lesson in consensus building. (Oxford University Press, 1938) As the play opens, there is a crowd being stirred to an agreement to kill Coriolanus.
First Citizen: Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.
All: Speak, speak.
First Citizen: You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?
All : Resolved. resolved.
First Citizen: First, you know Caius Marcius is chief enemy to the people.
All: We know't, we know't.
First Citizen: Let us kill him, and we'll have corn at our own price. Is't a verdict?
All: No more talking on't; let it be done: away, away!
Second Citizen: One word, good citizens.
The second citizen steps up to raise a point in Coriolanus’ defense, then a senator approaches who also pleads with the crowd. In the discussion that ensues, Shakespeare demonstrates that there are times when a consensus can be good and times when it can be dangerous, especially when brought about by appeals to emotion, and programmatic definitions. (Oxford University Press, 1938)
The commoners in Coriolanus are not an unruly mob, perverse in their disagreement with Coriolanus. Shakespeare portrays them differently than the mobs in Julius Caesar. Anne Barton is quoted by Bloom, “They care about motivation, their own and that of their oppressors, and they are by no means imperceptive.” When the decision has been made to banish Coriolanus, consensus has been achieved through both persuasion and through rational understanding. For Shakespeare, it is through words, albeit persuasive words that truth is perceived and a just consensus can be reached. (Bloom, 1998)
Coriolanus, originally the power holder through violence and coercion, abuses his authority and as a result, loses his power. United against him, the Roman commoners are able to build consensus, at least until the threat is gone. “The tragedy of Coriolanus is that there is absolutely no place for him in the world of the commonal and the communal.” (Bloom, 1998)
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