See the Film! Why Students Must See the Film Version of Plays

As a tutoring professional for over ten years in Silicon Valley, an area that prides itself on high quality education, I am still shocked that most English teachers whether at private or public schools do NOT screen films based on plays that students read and study in class. In January 2017, I posted the blog Five Movies Based on Shakespeare That You Didn’t Know Were Based on Shakespeare to partially address this issue.

By not screening films based on plays, teachers ignore a valuable tool to enhance student understanding, engagement and retention. Students need to see a play performed. Plays are not meant to be analyzed purely as text as this will kill any of the artistic merit and enjoyment to be gained from seeing a performance. This is akin to reading music on a page and never hearing the orchestra play the piece.

Unfortunately, the majority of English teachers commit professional malpractice by either not bothering to screen films of a play or screening only select scenes. One teacher goes so far as to refuse to screen films; I often see this teacher’s students because they do not understand the play well enough to write a decent analysis. My first recommendation is that they see the film.

In the best of all possible worlds, all English teachers would screen the film version of the play BEFORE students read it. Screening the film during class time instead of assigning it as homework would guarantee students actually see the play performed as it should be. Plays are not static text, but living art. Besides, most students would prefer to see a film during class than sit through a boring lecture or Socratic seminar.

By seeing the film before reading the play, students will better understand the plot, emotion, mood and tone. Some teachers wait until after students have read the text to screen the film and although this is better than no film at all, students should still see the play first. Most students have no idea of the diction, body language or costumes, especially for Shakespeare, and a performance will help them later conjure up the mental images needed to appreciate, analyze and interpret the text for an essay.

Here is a partial list of plays that local schools have taught. I am sad to say that the majority of my students did NOT see the entire play in class either before or after they had read it. Make sure your student does see the film. Make it a family movie night. Not the most fun movie night compared to seeing the latest Avengers’ blockbuster, but it will make writing essays about the play easier.

Antigone, As You Like It, Cyrano de Bergerac, Fences, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, MacBeth, Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Oedipus Rex, Othello, Phedre, The Tempest, A Raisin in the Sun, and Romeo and Juliet.

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