Joseph Fiennes - Shakespeare in love
To wrap up this year's lessons on Shakespeare's work, which I had started in October introducing Elizabethan Drama, I decided to involve my students in the controversial question of the authorship.
It's been a long series of lessons about Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Macbeth, some of the sonnets finally ended with reflections on  the theories opposing Stratfordians to Anti-Stratfordians. My goal was not to instill doubts in their minds but to reflect on the fact that such extraordinarily huge quantity of extraordinary poetry has risen so many doubts in scholars,  also as a consequence to the fact that there are very few traces and evidence  supporting the theory  crediting William Shakespeare from Stratford -  son of a glove-maker later  actor in Elizabethan London -  for its authorship. 

Anonymous 2011

It's been a fascinating theme, which brought about interesting debates,  especially after watching Roland Emmerich's 2011 movie Anonymous with my students. That movie supports an anti-Stratfordian theory: the Oxfordian hypothesis believing that Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote what we appreciate as Shakesperean masterpieces. 

Whoever wrote them, these works are still unbelievably modern. Proof is how interested even contemporary teenagers are if introduced to those plays without being scared with the complexity of the language. They must be helped and they'll enjoy and appreciate. 

Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet (1996)
I can assure you that when guided through the myracle of Shakespeare's  poetry they - yes, the always shallow, lazy, unmotivated teens   - react in a surprising way.

They even loved being asked : What would you have done if you had been Romeo/Juliet/Hamlet? Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Are Antonio and Bassanio model Christians? What do you think of Jessica and Portia as young women / daughters?  Or even:  why can Macbeth be considered an overreacher? 
They contributed their opinions in their not-yet- fluent English (remember my students are Italian teenagers) but they were willing to, they strove to find the right words and learnt new ones.

David Tennant as Hamlet - RSC 2010
Wasn't  Hamlet boring? Not at all, since they imagined themselves "in a sea of troubles". And they may  have smiled at Romeo's being foolishly in love with Rosaline first, then comparing Juliet to the sun or her eyes to the stars (not certainly their courting style),   but soon after they truly sided with the two unfortunate lovers fighting against their thick, violent, selfish parents and going toward their unfair doom. 
Weren't the sonnets too complex or abstract? Ask the ones who felt "My mistress eyes" was a great poem vindicating their rights, the rights of the less beautiful to be loved as much as the perfect ones. Up with flawed women and men, down with the false gods/goddesses.  Isn't it true that we fall for imperfect people who become  perfect in our eyes because of love?  Can you imagine how vital can such awareness be to a teenager?

Al Pacino as Shylock (2005)
It has also been scientifically tested that reading Shakespeare has dramatic effects on human brain: to read Shakespeare in the original version has a magnetic and therapeutic result thanks to his innovative language. Not only the Bard created new words, like gossip and fashionable, but he put them together to form totally new, original patterns. That is why his language is supposed to provoke a neurological magic: it stimulates with only words that area of our brain which responds to images.  Professor Davis, who led the team of researchers involved in this project, stated that Shylock's or Juliet's words are more effective than a hand-book about self-healing. We can cure our souls reading Shakespeare. 

Shakespeare apparently tells us about kings and queens, distant heroes and heroines, soldiers and noble women but when we read or listen to his words, they seem to speak to us and about us. And that is real magic. 

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