My nephew, Tom, who is 15 years old, told me the other day:
“Uncle Dave, would you believe our teacher said we wouldn’t be discussing Shakespeare’s tragedies because they might be too upsetting for us?”
“Well Tom, I know the new child psychology is to wrap children in cotton wool so reality doesn’t frighten them too much. I think it’s called “the snowflake generation”. This is when the adolescents are so sensitive they find it hard to face the world.”
“Why are we so sensitive, Uncle Dave?”
“Well, one thing is “Health and Safety” rules now days. The kids are pushed into safe spaces and are not allowed outside by themselves. Their games are closely supervised.
Years ago 80-90% of seven year olds walked to school alone, now only 10% do. So they don’t feel any sense of independence and they don’t have a chance to learn things by themselves. Some risk taking is good for kids, they learn to face their fears. Consequently, having been protected from everything, children are hypersensitive to any discomfort right up to early adulthood. there is more mental illness among children now because there is a terror of encountering opinions which differ from theirs.”
Well, Uncle Dave, wouldn’t it be better to study the tragedies to learn about fear and conflict? By the way, someone in class mentioned the Human Condition, what’s that?”
“Tragedy teaches you about adversity and you learn a lot from adversity. The Human Condition is composed of the things essential to our existence, such as, birth, growth, adversity, conflict and mortality. Shakespeare is full of the Human Condition.”
“So, studying Shakespeare helps us examine the Human Condition?”
“Yes Tom, you’ve got it in one!”
“Give me some examples, Uncle Dave, and I hope I don’t get too upset,” Tom smiled.
“In life we have to endure many things we howl about, we come into the world howling, we howl through life and we probably will leave the world howling!”
“Oh, Uncle Dave, you have such a way with words, just like Shakespeare,” said Tom, laughing.
“Hamlet is a good example, he asks all the questions we ask ourselves: Who am I? To be or not to be? Why do we exist?
Hamlet wanted to know should we accept our troubles in silence, or should we act to overcome them? Or, if we can’t overcome them, just accept our predicament and live one day at a time and enjoy what life we have.”
So, Uncle Dave, not to study Shakespeare is to miss out on essential life knowledge?”
“That’s right, Grasshopper, sorry, I mean Tom.”
“That’s okay, I am your Grasshopper.”
“Now Tom, when you go to see a Shakespeare tragedy, you will experience fear of what’s going to happen, and then you will feel pity for the main character.”
“What then, Uncle Dave?” Tom interrupted.
“Catharsis is next, you get purged of those emotions and you leave the theatre uplifted with an understanding of what it means to be human.”
“So, Uncle Dave, my teacher should be teaching us Shakespeare, otherwise he is hindering our education.”
“Yes Tom, he thinks he is protecting you from life’s rocky road, but you need to be taught about the tools to face your future.”
“Well, I’m going to read Shakespeare on my own time,” said Tom, determined.
“Well Tom, if we don’t study such works of literature, how will we endure the real tragedies which affect our world?”
“Thanks Uncle Dave, for setting me straight. I’ll be going now.”
“A couple of thoughts to take with you Tom:
All the world is a stage and most of us are UNDER REHEARSED!
All the world lives in one of two tents: Content or Discontent.”
Also published on Medium.