Brendan Largay, Head of School

BrendanLargay, Head of School

Where Art Thou, Mr. Largay? Teaching Shakespeare!

Over the summer, Jen James, my assistant and masterful keeper of my calendar, asked me: “So, are you planning on teaching Shakespeare again this year?”

As with most questions Jen poses, she already knew the answer. In this case, it was a resounding “yes!” Now, in my twenty-fifth year in independent schools, I have taught middle school students in all of them except the 2020-21 COVID year. The opportunity to get into the classroom each year is invaluable. Understanding the student and teacher experience more intimately, working with a grade-level team, and keeping up with the emerging practices of excellent instruction will always outweigh the not-insignificant challenges it can create in my calendar.

We worked out a compromise: given the busyness of my day job as head of school, I agreed to three six-week stints in seventh grade teaching a single Shakespeare play. I am currently in the third of those three sections, and we have just begun Romeo and Juliet.

So, why Shakespeare? Why Romeo and Juliet? And why the head of school?

To borrow from the Bard himself, “If you, with patient ears attend/ What here shall miss, our story shall strive to mend.”

Why Shakespeare? First, I believe Shakespeare is the greatest storyteller in literary history. As I explain to the students, there are enduring reasons why four centuries on, we continue to read and study his works. Not only did his works help shape the narrative arc of nearly every other text our students will read, but his characters are so well constructed and dynamic that they resonate still in 2024, just as they did in 1606. This is not to say that Shakespeare was perfect or that his writing isn’t worthy of reasonable criticism. However, when a student’s initial fear of Shakespeare’s language turns into deep curiosity about which character will make the next star-crossed decision, you understand the magic of Shakespeare’s prose. He’s still got it.

Why Romeo and Juliet? This play is more accessible to our students than other well-known works, say, Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello. Shakespeare immediately invites us in as “Chorus” addresses the audience with the now-famous prologue, “Two households, both alike in dignity/ In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” He beautifully “sets the stage” as he lays out the plot and foretells its tragic conclusion (and, in so doing, ruins the rest of the play, according to my students…). They soon learn that Shakespeare has pulled us in with the dramatic irony of knowing what these fated characters do not yet know—their fates.

Romeo and Juliet is the story of a 13-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy who feel like the adults in their lives don’t understand them. Talk about a sentiment that carries over centuries and resonates through the emotional lives of middle schoolers.

Why the head of school? As a teacher, it’s important to me to stay tapped into the buzz of students and my colleagues engaged in teaching and learning, and it is essential to my much-loved role as head of school. So, across these precious weeks, I have the joyful task (and weighty responsibility) of introducing the greatest writer to the greatest students.

BrendanLargay, Head of School

Scroll to Top
Giving Day 2023 logo

It’s BDS Giving Day—help us reach 225 gifts in 24 hours!