Author: Robin Garden
Publisher: Cambridge University Press, 2014, 280 pages.
English Departments take note: Robin Garden’s Shakespeare Reloaded might just change the way you teach Shakespeare in future. Rather than the old single-text focus, this brilliant book introduces students to Shakespeare’s writing in a comprehensive, highly innovative and approachable manner, offering rich pathways to connect the ideas and themes of Shakespearean language to our modern learners. Garden’s intention is to ‘help demystify and broaden the study of Shakespeare in schools’, an element that will appeal to teachers and students alike.
The clear layout and simple styling, complete with extensive glossary and definitions, contribute to the user-friendly feel of Garden’s work; the contents page highlights a natural, logical way to structure a study of the Bard’s writing, beginning with a contextual study of Elizabethan society and theatre through the first two chapters before moving on to a genre study covering Poetry, History, Comedy, and Tragedy through chapters three to six. The final chapter, Legacy, asserts the relevance of Shakespeare in our world today.
Shakespeare Reloaded responds articulately to the requirements of the many aspects of English study in the Australian Curriculum, and encourages the development of necessary skills through inquiry questioning to allow students to explore, exercise and reinforce new understandings. One way this is done is through examining bite-size snippets of a variety of Shakespearean texts, allowing students to make relevant connections to concepts and structures; lower to higher order questioning is also employed as a way to develop skills and student confidence with the material, thus making it invaluable in developing a positive student attitude to Shakespeare. This writer feels that Garden’s approach may break down barriers some students hold about the ‘difficulty’ of Shakespeare, due to the fresh, creative ideas found here in the text.
Here is a brief summary of Chapter 6, ‘Tragedy’, which comprises a study of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Garden provides a list of Shakespeare’s tragedies accompanied with a brief discussion of the genre. This then provides a dot-point summary of Romeo and Juliet, then sections titled ‘Introduction’, ‘Synopsis’, and ‘In Focus’, providing a more in-depth examination of the role of Friar Lawrence. We then move on to ‘Interpretation’, thematic discussions, and finally a close-up of sayings originating from the play, such as ‘wild-goose chase’. Each section is accompanied by a range of questions and activities, followed by a similar treatment of Macbeth and Hamlet. The close of the chapter consists of ‘Skill Builder’, ‘Your Turn’ and ‘Read and view more’, sections that invite students to respond to the literature, create and present their own work, and make relevant connections with other texts in the Tragedy genre. Overall, there is a beautiful sense of ease to studying Shakespeare’s work here, which can be taken as a stand-alone for a single text, or an all-encompassing study of many of his texts.
Shakespeare Reloaded is aimed at Year 9 and 10 students and would certainly provide schools with the opportunity to teach Shakespeare in a broader, contemporary context. This reviewer highly recommends the text as a way to introduce students to a variety of Shakespeare’s work as a whole study, however it can just as easily be used as a teacher support resource for the closer single-text study method. Garden’s book is a much-needed breath of fresh air.