Encourage students to read plays to develop into all-rounded adults
Many young Kenyans have been denied the educational and aesthetic value that plays, an important genre in literature, offers. Majority are completing high school having not read any play other than the one that they study for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Examinations. This is odd because children indulge in play-acting when they are young. One would expect children to appreciate plays more than the novel.
It also odd because plays were the earliest genre of literature in which great artists wrote. The earliest written texts of literature were in play form, although specifically written to be acted. The great Greek writers — Sophocles Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophenes — were playwrights. Their plays are masterpieces of not only great writing, but great thinking about the timeless ideas and values that define human life.
We have modern playwrights who have penned outstanding works.
Although technological literacy is the dominant philosophy in modern educational theory, cultural literacy of the sort that literature embodies, and particularly plays, form part of the mental or intellectual furniture of educated people.
And in the great plays are to be found what Victorian a lifelong educator, Matthew Arnold, called “the best which has been thought and said in the world.”
The mental equipment and discipline that appreciation of the great plays can give to any ambitious student complements what the students find in mathematics, engineering, medicine, information technology, law, journalism or economics, a few of the careers and occupations that have the temptation to question the relevance of plays in their professional aspirations.
A study of plays contributes to education and literacy. They teach us about human motivation and psychology.
In historical/political plays, we get lessons in leadership and government. A reading of Sophocles Aeschylus, Euripides, Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Henrik Ibsen, Robert Bolt and a host of other great playwrights’ books teaches readers many things. They have the ability to enable readers to understand ambition, character, courage, integrity, tenacity and confidence.
The books teach them about the psychology of the people, and leaders — the challenges, burdens, the perfidy and loneliness that attends the lives of leaders. The books have ably dealt with philosophical issues about freedom, and order: their place in the wellbeing and safety of the society and what happens when they are abused.
A careful reading of great plays influences the way we think and feel about our own lives and encourages us to take a hard look at ourselves, our values, and our behaviour. Great statesmen has been influenced by great plays in the way they look at issues and the way they speak about them.
One of the things that a reading of plays does is to develop the communication skills of the reader. The characters are made to speak directly and in a forceful and, sometimes, emotional language. Those who become politicians and leaders of institutions unconsciously absorb the manner of speaking that they “see”
in some of these plays.
Plays also help develop empathy and compassion in the hearts of those who read and study them — whether the reading is for examinations or simply for leisure and to while away time.
My early exposure to the issues that politicians grapple with was through plays. I recall one of our set books in 1982 was Joe de Graft’s Muntu. We had been earlier introduced to, James Bridie’s
Tobias and The Angel in Form two. By the end of my high school, I had read
Betrayal in the City and Man of Kafira by Francis Imbuga, Androcles and the
Lion by Bernard Shaw, Arthur Miller’s
The Death of A Salesman, The Crucible,
Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel,
A man of All Season by Robert Bolt and
Death in a Cathedral by T.S. Eliot. I believe that my appreciation of plays can be traced to my initial exposure to a good playbook — James Bridie’s Tobias and The Angel by our literature teacher in form two. This made me to appreciate plays to the extent that I came to read some plays by Shakespeare and Molorie plays by Greek playwrights.
The reading of plays is no child’s play. It is a serious exercise that calls upon and expands our minds. Some of the greatest men and women we have had in history took their time and energy reading plays.
Plays also form one of the most important pillars of education in Europe, the Americas and Asia.
Plays as much deal with enduring problems that men and women face — at intra-personal and at interpersonal levels. They deal with love and hate, justice and injustice, honesty and dishonesty in human dealings.
They deal with the scope and limits of patriotism and loyalty to family, friends and society in general. How far an individual can go in exercising his own freedom of thought and action; and if he crosses the limits society has laid down for him, what happens or does not happen as a result.
Plays deal with life and death — in all their facets. This defines humanity, which provides the scaffold upon which appreciation of human life hinges on. It is the insights thereof that leaders of men and women need to govern or guide society and institutions.
Part of the awesome public speaking abilities of President Barack Obama is because he was well acquainted with the subtlety of language that the great plays he read developed in him.
It is not unusual that Robert Kennedy, in his impromptu remarks upon being notified about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr fell back on Sophocles and the Greek literature to express his dismay.
He knew well the violent frictions that the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. would ignite. He accordingly invoked the timeless lines Sophocles to warn of the dangers of bigotry and revenge.
You see, in poetry is to be found serious issues about life, about the challenges of living together—issues that can help us to understand ourselves and others better.