Shakespeare For Today

SmartLessons, Sophie's Tips, Tips and Tricks, Video Highlights


William Shakespeare is undoubtedly one of the greatest playwrights in history, and likely the best known. His work is still broadly studied and performed worldwide, more than four centuries after his death- so how has his work acquired a stereotype of being fusty, irrelevant and difficult to decipher?

Whether or not you are aware of it, Shakespeare’s work has cemented itself in the collective conscience of our society. For example, look at these common sayings and idioms: a foregone conclusion, a sea change, a sorry sight, dead as a doornail, all’s well that ends well, be all and end all, foul play, green eyed monster, hot-blooded, a charmed life, lie low, in a pickle, in stitches, I have not slept a wink, night owl, up in arms, woe is me, wild goose chase– the list goes on and on. What do these have in common? They were all originally coined by Shakespeare.

Perhaps one of the greatest errors in the study of his work is to concentrate solely upon the transcriptions of his plays: Shakespeare counted himself as a playwright, and thus his plays are designed to be performed to an audience as a visual medium, and not limited to the page. Given a performance of his work, the cadences of language and utilisation of techniques such as metaphor and iambic pentameter immediately become apparent to students, opening up the apparent barriers between our modern English and that of Shakespeare’s day. This allows students to better utilise their knowledge of the themes and motifs being explored within his work, rather than being bogged down by individual stanzas, without understanding the broader context of the act, or indeed the piece as a whole.

Indeed, perhaps the reason Shakespeare has been such an enduring influence upon our society is due to the commonality of the human experience that is explored within his work. Whether you are studying works as fanciful as the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the romance The Tempest, his histories or his tragedies, they are all rooted in the tribulations, the joys, the melancholy and the general experience of what it is to be human. Love, loss, revenge and political intrigue are all common threads within his work, and it is largely for this reason that Shakespeare has stood the test of time- think of any popular film, television series, book or popular culture phenomenon, past or present, and they will likely be grounded in at least one of these things. Shakespeare was considered a vastly accessible playwright in his time, with every class coming to view his work. To be accessible to so many, he had to tap into the commonality between them all.

Another common error in studying his work is to purely view Shakespeare’s work through our own 21st century lens, without consideration for the historical, social and political context in which he was writing in. The culmination of this is often a sense of isolation and irrelevance on the part of students, or a complete misrepresentation of the original themes, such as an overt attachment of colonialist overtones to The Tempest. Whilst the universality of his plays and the exploration of our current context is an important addition to any textual study, it is just as vitally important to hold in consideration the viewpoints and broader context that Shakespeare was writing in.

As has been established, it is a necessity to study Shakespeare using a range of methods and angles, in order to better consolidate our understanding and bring his work to life. Here at TV4Education, we have a vast collection of material to better assist with this. Be it the fantastic Shakespeare Uncovered series, that delves into the context that Shakespeare wrote the play in whilst also examining how it the work continues to evolve, its relevance in today’s society, and the different facets that are explored by different actors, productions and scholars; or Lenny Henry Finding Shakespeare, a witty, down-to-earth look at how Shakespeare was originally for everybody, how this has changed over time, and how to rectify this; or the numerous of productions of his work in our collection, from Richard II, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest and many more.

Whilst close study of the written text is an important facet, viewing Shakespeare in action and accessing  a variety of perspectives through the medium of multimedia will prove to be an invaluable tool and addition to the classroom. The amalgamation of these learning techniques will foster an increased appreciation of Shakespeare’s work, something that will be enjoyed for years to come.

Here’s a list of TV4Education resources that can be used in relation to the topics covered in this post. If you use the SmartSuite version of TV4Education just search for the titles below on your site.

Shakespeare Uncovered – Series

The Taming of The Shrew

Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare Animated – Series

Horrible Histories Special Sensational Shakespeare



Insults by Shakespeare

Relates to Australian Curriculum Codes;


Churchill’s Darkest Decision

SmartLessons, Sophie's Tips, Video Highlights


In light of the Churchill documentary available through the Foxtel Movies Channel, Sophie, our new lesson planning pro, has put together a detailed review just for you.

Richard Bond’s 2009 documentary, Churchill’s Darkest Decision, provides a fascinating look at Winston Churchill’s initiative to mobilise the controversial naval Operation Catapult in July 1940. Bond’s primary focus is upon the Attack of Mers-el-Kébir in Algeria, in addition to the catalysts that culminated in this event, which resulted in the death of 1,297 Frenchmen within 10 minutes- at the time it was the highest death toll of any naval action since the commencement of World War II.

Churchill’s Darkest Decision details the rapidly shifting allegiances of WWII, demonstrating the often fickle nature of alliances in the face of this nouveau warfare and the overt threat of Nazi Germany. Key personalities such as Admiral François Darlan, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, James Somerville and Marcel-Bruno Gensoul are all noted, with Bond deftly exploring the closely interwoven political machinations of these figures in regards to Churchill.

However, the documentary isn’t limited to the perspectives of these figures, providing a further revelation into the complications of warfare via the utilisation of primary sources such as Robert Philpott (HMS Hood) and Léon le Roux (Battleship Dunkerque). Both men were teenagers at the time of the attack, serving on the British and French navies respectively, and are called upon to relay their indignation and horror at Britain turning upon their former allies, noting the confusion, the screams and bloodshed of what later became referred to as the ‘French Pearl Harbour.’ Many who were serving were ignorant of France’s changed political status, with France having surrendered to Germany only weeks prior- thus many Frenchmen believed that the British were coming to aid them, rather than open fire.

This political ignorance stands in stark contrast to the greater landscape of Churchill’s administration, the latter extending back to the genesis of his time in office (May 10th 1940). Operation Catapult was a direct result of several factors: a broken agreement between France and Britain’s terms for capitulation; the necessity of obtaining favour from the US in order to obtain naval aide; and the looming threat of the combined forces of France, Germany and Italy’s naval resources. Because whilst Britain had the largest navy, it was spread exceedingly thin over Britain’s vast empire, and their numbers didn’t compare to the aforementioned trio.

Bond establishes an immersive atmosphere, be it via the contents of Churchill’s numerous telegrams to President Roosevelt, the newsreels and primary footage surrounding and of the event, the displays of reactionary Nazi propaganda or the dichotomy of the reaction of the home front and the House of Commons in contrast to the recounted horrors of the front line. And whilst the primary focus is upon the events of Mers-el-Kébir, Bond ensures that the naval escapades of Alexandria, Britain and the scuttling of ships in Toulon are all included.

Overall, this documentary is a fantastic addition to the study of WWII, the personality of the eponymous Churchill and the intersecting nature of political and military forces. Whilst it provides a brief vignette of the pivotal event that was WWII, it also provides students with a great example of the effectiveness of collating a variety of sources, in addition to clearly demonstrating the pressure-cooker environment that was the Churchill government.

Here’s a list of TV4Education resources that can be used in relation to the topics covered in this post.

Churchill’s Darkest Decision

Churchill (2017)

Churchill and the Fascist Plot

Churchill’s First World War

Relates to Australian Curriculum Codes;