Bard Blues

, Deborah Lambert, Leave a comment

Longtime English teacher Kathryn Markham noted in a recent column in that she spends a lot of time trying to figure out how to make Shakespeare’s works resonate with today’s youth.

“Every year, I get the same questions, namely: ‘Shakespeare? What does this dead white guy have to do with me? He doesn’t know where I come from, what I’m all about. He’s not from the streets.’”

So Kathryn Markham explains that “what’s totally fresh about Shakespeare is that he wrote for ordinary people. His homies. My students say: ‘Then why did he write this snooty poetry that no one can understand?’”

“Well that’s just it,” says Markham. “His poetry was the best street rhyming of his time. And Shakespeare was the best ‘player’ of them all. Even today, 400 years later, Shakespeare is the world’s ultimate rapper.”

Markham added that “Shakespeare had the tightest flow in the history of the English language. He never intended for his works to be read in some dusty old study. They were performed before a rowdy audience of ne’er do wells, servants and charboys who interacted with the players and even threw things on stage…The Globe truly was the Apollo Theater of the day.”

Kathryn Markham believes that “rap resonates because it talks about our lives, and tells stories of love, violence, sex – the things that get our blood racing.” To convince one of her classes that Shakespeare understood this, she recalls reciting a soliloquy from Hamlet in the same cadence as a rap TV commercial, which always cracked up the class. “One year, there was even a student who accompanied me with the mouth-drumming noises, and we actually sounded very impressive together.”

“I’ve been teaching English for nearly 18 years, and even today, I’m still amazed at how fresh and current Shakespeare remains.”

Deborah Lambert writes the monthly Squeaky Chalk column in The Campus Report newsletter.