Originally Posted by HarryT
Sure, I accept that there will be some new vocabulary, but isn't that one of the reasons why we "make" children read in school - to expand their vocabulary?
Sure--but a kid who has to stop and look up every ninth word, isn't reading the story; there's no awareness of "great literature," just a pile of new words to memorize.
I just think that the "inaccessibility" of Shakespeare can be exaggerated. I'm not saying that there won't be some unfamiliar words - there will be, of course - but it's really not as fearsome as it's sometimes made out to be.
Shakespeare doesn't have to be inaccessible, but to bring his works to an audience completely unfamiliar with the context of setting, surrounding culture, and linguistic habits takes preparation--and many school teachers (in the US, at least) don't do that.
The kids usually don't have enough understanding of the story themes and background details to gloss over the unfamiliar words and sort out exact meanings later. The rhythm of the speech is like nothing they've heard, so they have to struggle to sort out the basic meanings even of the parts where they know all the words. And, of course, the literary themes are usually new and confusing--because we don't teach literature based on concepts the kids are assumed to understand well; they're supposed to learn new things.
That's three areas of unfamiliarity to wade through. Add, potentially, unfamiliarity with play format; characters with hard-to-pronounce names and meaningless titles; the hassles of learning something new in a class of 30 people who all have slightly different difficulties with it. A good teacher, of course, can guide the kids through that, but that's because a good teacher can teach anything, not because Shakespeare is notably accessible.
It's not incomprehensible, but it's also very much not a matter of "just put the texts in front of the students and make them read, maybe aloud, and they'll understand it if they're paying attention." There are just too many disconnects between a lot of classics and the lives of modern teenagers for that to be reasonable.