A recent article by a high school teacher in California was pointing out that although Shakespeare isn't necessarily required in college-level English, he is still part of the curriculum for high schoolers. Because her classes are mainly comprised of African American students, she was calling on the powers-that-be to relinquish this requirement. I'll chime in that it isn't just American minorities that are at a disadvantage here. Being made to read Hamlet in my Scottish high school made me hate him. I could never figure out what the heck was going on. It's one thing to require this of students studying ancient English literature, but for high schoolers who not that long ago had their fingers up their noses, why do we insist on pushing those same noses into seventeenth century English? We don't make them read Chaucer.
A lot of it has to do with literary snobbery, of course. Americans might be even more snobby about this than the English. By the grace of the gods, my high school teacher also put in our grubby hands a gorgeous little book entitled Cider With Rosie. I don't know how that would stand up to another reading now, but the idea then was to make us fall in love with modern English and lovely lyrical writing. And fall I did!
It was published in 1959 and has sold more than six million copies. And it's still in print! Still being assigned to book groups. Still lovely:
“She leaned out of the window slow and sleepy, and the light came through her nightdress like sand through a sieve.”
I bit into this particular peach of a book by Laurie Lee, and the juice ran out and down my hands, and it's what I use these days to cobble together my own stories.
Shakespeare has his juice, too. There's no denying. There are entire soliloquies of his that pace around in my head. But it's more a kind of wine. Not for the young. Let's leave it until they can savour it, if they want it. You catch more bees with honey, anyway. Or peach juice. Or cider.