‘Don’t bore pupils with Shakespeare’: Dame Helen Mirren says the Bard should not be taught in schools as it’s best experienced for the first time at a theatre

  • Helen Mirren says Shakespeare should be shown not taught to school pupils  
  • Suggests ‘droning through’ his works at the ages of 11 and 12 can be off-putting 
  • Acknowledges challenge of making ‘sometimes archaic language accessible’

She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at the age of 20 and has played some of the Bard’s best-known characters.

But Helen Mirren says the playwright should not be taught at school and youngsters should instead see his works on stage.

The Oscar-winning actress, 75, said ‘droning through’ the plays in a classroom aged 11 or 12 could be off-putting. 

Helen Mirren says Shakespeare should not be taught at school and youngsters should instead see his works on stage

The Oscar-winning actress, 75, said ‘droning through’ Shakespeare’s plays in a classroom aged 11 or 12 could be off-putting

‘I don’t think Shakespeare should be taught in schools,’ she said during a Zoom conversation with RSC artistic director Gregory Doran.

‘All young people’s experience of Shakespeare should be live theatre.’ She added that watching a production might be more likely to spark an enthusiasm in his writing. 

However she admitted it was a challenge to make the ‘sometimes archaic language alive and accessible’.

Dame Helen, who has played the male character Prospero in a 2010 film version of The Tempest, said she was all for gender swaps in modern productions.

Dame Helen, who has played the male character Prospero in a 2010 film version of The Tempest, said she was all for gender swaps in modern productions

‘I’m so happy now that women can do Hamlet, do Richard III, do Lear, as Glenda Jackson just did,’ she said.

‘It certainly was beyond any possibility when I was in my twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties. It was just impossible.’

Author Maggie O’Farrell recently said that it is ‘crucial’ for Shakespeare to remain on the school curriculum.

‘I’m very, very much against him being removed from the curriculum and yes his work is a challenge for modern children but you can’t underestimate children to say “oh it’s too hard for them” is a bit of a nannying way to think about them,’ she said.

She added: ‘It’s crucial – to me it would be a bit like missing out on learning to count to 100… It becomes part of your DNA, your language DNA.’

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