Saturday, June 23, 2007

Placing Shakespeare in an African context

The relevance of the works of William Shakespeare in the African educational curriculum often raises questions from various sectors. Why should Shakespeare be recommended as a national set-work year in and year out, when there are internationally renowned works from African writers like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka?

Victor Houliston, associate professor of English at Wits University says, "Shakespeare continues to be central to the English curriculum not only because of his unequalled influence on contemporary authors and his unparalleled fame as a writer, but because people throughout the world find that he tells their story, here and now."

However, schoolchildren can now have the best of both worlds. Nasou Via Afrika, a leading educational publisher in South Africa has partnered with Wits University to produce a series of books that marks an exciting new approach to teaching and learning Shakespeare in an African context.

"Instead of trying to 'Africanise' Shakespeare, we encourage learners to be inspired, by their enjoyment of Shakespeare, to read works by African writers that raise similar issues or develop similar situations. "This gives the text currency and links it to contemporary African issues which school children relate to and engage with," says Houliston.

"The book introduces the rich tradition of African literature while supporting the teaching of Shakespeare and the text is designed to enhance learners' understanding and enjoyment of the play."

The series offers the original text, together with line-by-line notes that explain the text and offer comprehensive background information. It includes a clear commentary after every scene and act and includes practical exercises.

Houliston's team includes experienced teachers such as Harriet Davis, Peter Farrands, Zwelakhe Mtsaka and Joanna Parmenter, all of whom have close connections with Wits.

Davis and Parmenter are graduates of the prestigious MA in English Education programme, developed by Denise Newfield of the English Department.

The first book of this innovative series, Macbeth, was launched at Cape Town Book Fair. The series will also be launched at the Seventh Triennial Congress of the Shakespeare Society of Southern Africa that takes place 25 June at Rhodes University, Grahamstown and a teachers' workshop is also scheduled to take place in Gauteng later this year.

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