Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose

A Student-Centred Approach

What does it mean to teach Shakespeare with purpose? It means freeing teachers from the notion that teaching Shakespeare means teaching everything, or teaching “Western civilization” and universal themes. Instead, this invigorating new book equips teachers to enable student-centered discovery of these complex texts.

Because Shakespeare's plays are excellent vehicles for many topics — history, socio-cultural norms and mores, vocabulary, rhetoric, literary tropes and terminology, performance history and performance strategies — it is tempting to teach his plays as though they are good for teaching everything. This lens-free approach, however, often centers the classroom on the teacher as the expert and renders Shakespeare's plays as fixed, determined and dead. "Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose" shows teachers how to approach Shakespeare's works as vehicles for collaborative exploration, to develop intentional frames for discovery and to release the texts from over-determined interpretations. In other words, this book presents how to teach Shakespeare's plays as living, breathing and evolving texts.


Ayanna Thompson is a professor of English at Arizona State University, where she also directs the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Praise for this book

Thompson and Turchi describe techniques for moving us away from teacher-centered historical expertise toward a collaborative and participatory model of learning that puts Shakespearean language and performance at the center of the classroom experience … It's innovative, practical, and generous; I hope it will be read widely and put to use.

Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

'Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose' is not just a practical guide but an argument for the continued relevance of Shakespeare survey courses … Each chapter grounds the teaching theory in practical examples from a model class.

This Rough Magic