Bard bug bites Beijing

by Hannah Northcott | 1 September 2016

Who among you have quoted William Shakespeare?

I asked a room of eighth graders. The ticking of the clock echoes in the black box. A few students raise hesitant hands but their heads are low, peeking, checking to see if anyone else raised a limb or even a finger. I try to fish out more interest with the question: “Why are we studying the work of a man who died four hundred years ago?“.

While the International School of Beijing may be one of the leading and innovative schools in the region, when I began here four years ago, there was no middle school drama programme. As a pioneer of drama in our division, I wondered: “How can I bring an understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare to a predominant Asian middle school population, most of whom have not been exposed to his works?”. After I engage the students with some leading questions I project an image that captures quotes crafted by the Bard himself: “Knock knock! Whose there?”, “heart of gold”, “love is blind”, “break the ice”, “fight fire with fire”, “world is your oyster”, “off with his head” and “vanish into thin air”. At first, students scan the list quietly but instinctively they verbalise and then repeat the words, some of the English language’s most popular idioms and expression. “Who has quoted Shakespeare?” I ask again. This time every student waves an excited arm in the air.

Exposing students to expert commentary via Ted Talk on Shakespeare sheds even more light on the possibilities and influences of the Bard to different generations, race, cultural background and heritage.

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