Odds are that in a classroom of students who have never been taught Shakespeare before, the majority of them may already be at least a little familiar with some aspect of his work. I have no statistical proof to back that statement up, but it does seem likely that in a world where passionate couples are referred to as “Romeos and Juliets,” and the iconic image of a young man holding a skull is enough to make the brain jump to “to be or not to be,” that students are surrounded by Shakespeare already.
It’s an interesting conversation-starter, anyway. When I taught with SSO one of the first conversations was to ask the class what they already knew about Shakespeare. A lot of voices piped up with “He wrote stuff,” “Weren’t there some plays?” and some character recognition, “Romeo and Juliet, that was his.” Before they even get to a sit-down conversation about what they know about Shakespeare, they don’t realize the tidbits they’re picking up from pop-culture. I saw them relax before my eyes as they realized they already knew the subject, they just hadn’t been up-close yet.
I’m sure that by this point in the year, your students are already quite familiar with Shakespeare from your lessons, but it’s a fun conversation to have. Before there was a book and an audition, what did they already know?