Last week, a widely shared article titled Enough with Shakespeare questions the relevance of renowned English author William Shakespeare’s writings in Malawi’s curricula.
The article further advocates the inclusion of books written by Malawians such as William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and Legson Kayira’s I Will Try.
The two are great books by Malawians that I enjoyed reading and would recommend them for any avid reader. But this is no licence to trivialise the relevance of Shakespearean literature while campaigning for the teaching of Malawian books in schools.
Shakespeare remains relevant. His themes cut across cultures and are generational. Do a comparative study of any Shakespeare work with the two cited books and you will realise that Shakespeare touches all aspects and elements of literature while most contemporary books tick just a few boxes.
Among others, Romeo and Juliet talks about family feuds, lust, childish decisions. These are not just themes confined to the lives of two teenagers in Verona, but people in Malawi and other countries can easily relate to them.
Jack McBrams, the author of the article forgets that both Kamkwamba and Kayira are merely telling their life stories with not much emphasis on the aspects and nuances of literature taught in schools.
Yes, these two are good books, but not recommended text for literature learners.
Literature is taught under different streams, including but not limited to English literature, Malawian literature, African literature, and llassical literature.
This is well taken care of in both secondary and tertiary institutions. The current secondary curriculum has Familiar Stranger ( edited by Malawian Hudson Chamasowa), Tale of Tamali (written by Zimbabwean Shimmer Chinodya), Shakespeare’s Macbeth and John Steinbeck’s The Pearl (from the Americas).
Now if this is not variety in literature, what is it then?
In this case, Shakespeare falls under renaissance literature and does not only form a basis for exam, but also sets a foundation for those who choose to study literature in college.
Besides, the experiences of both Kamkwamba and Kayira might be appealing to a rural student and those in urban areas might not easily relate their experiences to the pair.
Additionally, we live in a global village where Shakespeare is still celebrated and his catchphrases used. Should we deprive students of such opportunities?
Shakespeare is not just some work of literature, but also a relic for language scholars. We learn more about the evolution of English through the works of Shakespeare and his legendary contemporaries.
Shakespeare, together with his classical equals, is a rich source of data for linguists and any person interested in the history of the queen’s language.
Learners ought to know and understand that language evolves. Where else will they appreciate this if we discard Shakespeare from the curriculum?
Finally, the curriculum already has books authored by Malawians, which I am sure they fit the bill after passing through the due process.
Why would we want to introduce Kamkwamba or Kayira in it?
Besides, the author of the anti-Shakespeare article needs to ask himself: “Why do we have Shakespeare’s works in our syllabus?”
Understanding why literature is taught in schools should form the basis of such advocacy and propositions. Otherwise, we might just load the curriculum with local content that is devoid of any dos and donts that literature students ought to learn.
This would be a great disservice to the learners. It will deprive them of the much-needed content they ought to benefit from.
As such, it would be wise to campaign for more Malawian works without ridding the curriculum of William Shakespeare. whakespeare transcends time. His themes and characters have valuable lessons for the present generation—and will remain relevant even for generations to come.