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Shakespeare as art therapy

William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the most influential playwrights of British literature. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and five poems. No other author could have done this for the people like Shakespeare. Even though Shakespeare may seem daunting to young students, he can be understood and mastered under the guidance of a great teacher. A mastery in Shakespeare will give you a set of skills that can help you with anything, history included.
This article isn’t the first. Researchers, scientists, educators, and scholars all argue for Shakespeare’s right to be taught in schools. While those who want to keep Shakespeare out argue that Shakespeare’s content is too complicated, mature, or irrelevant, those who advocate keeping Shakespeare in schools conduct studies to demonstrate the importance and value of Shakespeare’s texts.

University of Liverpool performed studies that showed the positive effects of Shakespeare’s language on the brain. Research at Ohio State University Wexner medical center supported the positive impact Shakespeare has on young autistic people. Royal Shakespeare Company was based in Stratford-upon-Avon and conducted research on Shakespeare’s value for all students. Shakespeare’s unique language, character relatability, and interdisciplinary applications make Shakespeare an essential part of public education.
Identifying the characters

Even though the plays are not for everyone, they have characters that can connect with every reader. It is this connection to characters that keeps readers returning for more.

Shakespeare’s plays are both a masterpiece of composition and he is very clever about including common people. Because the plays were written for royal families, nobles were not included. However, common people make the plays more relatable to modern audiences.

Consider Queen Elizabeth who ruled at the time Shakespeare wrote. Elizabeth influenced many of Shakespeare’s women characters, including Titania, in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and Viola, in “Twelfth Night.” Elizabeth’s love and admiration for Shakespeare’s plays drove Shakespeare’s contemporary popularity. This led to other writers of that time to borrow his ideas and incorporate them into their works. This can lead to some believing that Shakespeare wasn’t actually Shakespeare.

Click here for information on KS2 Shakespeare workshops.

Shakespeare was the son and daughter of a shoemaker, and a former noble woman. His childhood experiences inspired him to include common people in his plays. These included the mechanicals Bottom and Quince, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hamlet’s trusty friends, and students can relate to these emotions. When students are able to connect with certain characters, the text is important to them. Shakespeare’s inclusions multiple types ensures this.
Your brain will work harder

Shakespeare’s language is complex. Shakespeare’s works contain approximately 7,000 new words. This makes it no surprise that Shakespeare’s writing can be hard to read. The appeal of Shakespeare’s words is what makes his text appealing to readers, and even more important for students.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool found that Shakespeare used functional shift to alter one element of his grammar. Shakespeare was known to use functional shift often, especially when using verbs instead of nouns. When the brain notices this, it causes a “sudden spike in brain activity that [forces] the brain into working backwards in an attempt to fully understand Shakespeare’s intentions.” (See sidebar for study reference.

Shakespeare’s language makes it necessary for readers to have better skills to understand the text. These skills are necessary to be a strong analyzer in English and science. It is helpful for adolescents who are trying understand the meaning of their peers in complex situations. Students learn to communicate better with their peers when they use metaphors and sarcasm.
Shakespeare as art therapy

Shakespeare is literature. But it is also art. Shakespeare can play a significant role in art therapies that children learn from. Royal Shakespeare Company undertook a study on how Shakespeare impacts youth at all ages. The students used “rehearsal-room approaches to Shakespeare,” which included acting out and working through the play in their own way. The results showed positive changes in behavior and test scores. (See the sidebar for study references.)

Ohio State University studied a group of students suffering from autism spectrum disorder. They used rhythm-based communication and gestures in order to understand Shakespeare’s text in a “social skills intervention” known as Hunter Heartbeat Method. For one hour each week, they performed performance games and started and stopped the class by tapping their chests. The class focused on the essential skills of facial emotion recognition as well as eye contact, gross motor imitation and affective imitating, pragmatics in dialogue exchange, and other important skills. These skills improved over the course of ten weeks. Shakespeare’s joy inspires students of all ages to be better academically and socially. (See sidebar, study reference.

Shakespeare is indispensable to every day life. Shakespeare is more than just relatable to readers. It improves brain function and test scores as well as social skills. Students are most benefited when Shakespeare programs are maintained in schools.

Teachers want students success. Students should have the opportunity to learn and grow. English teachers can benefit from teaching Shakespeare to help students build strong, healthy minds.