Is comedy ‘easier’ than tragedy, when it comes to studying Shakespeare in high school? The Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations has decided to replace Macbeth with Much Ado About Nothing from 2015 for ISC students. There are three parts to the logic behind this. First, Macbeth, being a tragedy, is too grim and therefore too difficult for teenagers. Second, science students need to be given more time to prepare their science subjects, so make the literature bits easier and less demanding. Third, it is best not to do away with Shakespeare altogether, because he is the most classic of the classics, and teenagers should be encouraged to read him.
First, one of the most successful adaptations of Macbeth in the world is Vishal Bharadwaj’s Maqbool. Mr Bharadwaj has proved, as he did later with Othello and Omkara, that Shakespeare can be adapted to the Indian context and sensibility quite brilliantly by a film-maker, or teacher, with the right sort of intellectual agility. Young people all over India have also taken to Maqbool. The nuances and ambiguities of Shakespearean romantic comedy need a maturer, and historically better informed, mind to grasp the full range of experiences and emotions depicted in the plays. Beatrice and Benedick’s erotic friction and Dogberry’s linguistic registers will be a challenge for high school teachers. Ambition and violence are ‘easier’ than the adult difficulties of difficult love. Second, science students must understand that working through a difficult play is good for the scientific mind and method, and is well worth the extra time. Setting up implicit hierarchies between ‘hard’ science subjects and ‘soft’ humanities subjects in school is a bad idea in the short, and the long, run. Third, dropping Shakespeare altogether, at this stage, for a more contemporary classic should be seriously thought through. No point ramming him down unwilling throats (teachers included). Those who are willing have a whole lifetime after school to study him well.