Mary Ellen Dakin
William Shakespeare's plays and sonnets are studied throughout the world as an example of powerful, emotive literature. He is widely regarded as one of the English language's finest writers, despite the fact that the language used may today feel dated and be difficult for first-time readers to understand. As such, Shakespeare's work may be better appreciated when read alongside textbooks. These textbooks explain some of the more flowery or older language in more modern terms. Some of the finest examples of textbooks which help students understand Shakespeare's works are those by author and teacher Mary Ellen Dakin. His works are often taught at high school or college level, and as such, students might find it difficult to understand just why they should be reading this 16th century bard's work: surely it cannot be relevant to today's world? Mary Ellen Dakin explains in a simple and interesting manner how Shakespeare's plays concentrate mostly upon the human condition, and that much of what is explored and investigated in his writing is human nature; and so is as relevant today as it was in the bard's own day.
Tragedy and comedy, love and hatred, good and evil: the themes that run throughout Shakespeare's works are universal and do not age as the centuries past. Though in his own day he was not quite as popular and revered as he is today, even then his works were recognised as being 'most excellent' (Francis Meres, 1598 - cleric, author and one of the first to produce a critique on Shakespeare's plays and poetry). These unchanging themes can be easily related to modern life, and when taught in such a way that it engages the students and that the students can understand the often seemingly-convoluted style of writing popular in Shakespeare's day, can inspire much passion for the playwright in young minds.
Mary Ellen Dakin is the author of two textbooks written to help students understand and enjoy Shakespeare's writings: Reading Shakespeare Film First and Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults. She has worked as a teacher of Shakespeare in both public and private schools since 1987 and has run workshops on Shakespeare since 1994.She has been awarded the title of Master Teacher by the Massachusetts Department of Education. Her textbook Reading Shakespeare Film First is an excellent source for teachers in the 21st century as it takes into account modern resources such as film to help students to truly appreciate Shakespeare's work, while Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults works to inspire young readers to be excited to study the famous and beloved bard.
Reading Shakespeare Film First advises teachers to explore Shakespeare's plays in triplicate: through reading the play, seeing it performed on stage and translated into modern terms through film. Rather than eliminating any one of these forms, the book states that Shakespeare's plays should be studied in all manners available, thus bringing the greatest understanding and appreciation to students of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare's language is beautifully wrought: it is for this reason that it is still loved and studied throughout the world. But at times, the olde-worlde speech can be confusing and difficult to understand. Seeing the play - whether on the stage or transformed into a modern cinematic piece - can bring the literature to life. Mary Ellen Dakin's book encourages students to engage in such aspects as recognition of the three main sectors of film - cinematic, yes, but also the literary and theatrical faces of film today - as well as exploring the translation of the script of a play to theatre or film. Recognising the conversion of the strange, beautiful but dated language of Shakespeare into what can be the just as rich and strange language of modern film is a major aspect of Mary Ellen Dakin's work.
Mary Ellen Dakin is also author of the textbook Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults, a book designed to not only help students understand some of Shakespeare's most well-known plays, but also to get them excited about reading and learning about the 16th century playwright in today's modern world. It covers some of his best loved plays including A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth: tragedies and comedies famous across the globe. It also includes classroom activities for teachers to give to their students which will help with the understanding of these often obscure-seeming literature pieces.
Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults helps teachers to see why they should encourage students to enjoy Shakespeare's work, as well as how to encourage such feeling in teenagers and young adults.
Reading Shakespeare Film First and Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults are both published by the National Council of Teachers of English and are accompanied by a website which provides hand-outs and lessons to aid teaching.