Crimes Against Shakespeare 011: beware Shakesphobia

Don’t Panic, as Douglas Adams might say. Together we can beat this awful disease.

BH shakespeare-signature-shutterstock2

This is a PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING brought to you by the Boar’s Head, Eastcheap.

There is a deadly, debilitating disease sweeping schools in the UK.  Parents, teachers, and especially students need to be informed.  Many people do not realise they have it until it is too late.  Treatment can be lengthy, and painful, and some patients (err, I mean students) never recover.

Tonight’s villain in the Crimes Against Shakespeare gallery is an insidious illness, a condition I’ll return to many times over the next few months.  However, knowledge IS power, and public awareness combined with a few simple precautionary measures can prevent transmission from those who are already infected.

Name:  SHAKESPHOBIA.  Sometimes also termed Shakespeare Intolerance.

BH mad cowSymptoms:  Research has suggested that the bacillus involved [a] bears many similarities to Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.  Those afflicted demonstrate significantly reduced cognition: they struggle particularly with ‘common-sense’ tasks; occasional bouts of hysteria can occur, especially in the run up to exams; hearing is commonly affected, which results in sufferers experiencing difficulty in listening to anything you tell them in an attempt to cure them; victims often catastrophise – finding extreme difficulty in the simplest tasks [see study by Doctors B Head and E Cheap, below]; others find their moral code eroded:  they take to ‘cheating’ to secure grades they have not earned (eg asking for answers on Reddit); finally a main and serious symptom is the development of a ‘closed’ mindset.

Long-term prognosis:  in medium to severe cases, the bacillus can cause a serious dip in a student’s GCSE English Literature grade.  This results in a deep-seated sense of shame over the long-term, when sufferers are questioned about their grades by colleges, universities and/or employers.

Communicability:  this is a highly infectious condition.  A single infected child in a class can quickly spread several of the symptoms described to 30+ peers within a five-to-ten minute period, if preventative measures are not taken.  Further, studies suggest that the likelihood of inter-generational transmission increases exponentially if precautionary measures are not taken.

Treatment:  prevention is, as ever, better than cure.

  • if you are a parent:  keep an eye on your child!  Be careful not to make your child susceptible to the bacillus by describing in overly negative terms your school experiences with Shakespeare.  The world has turned.  We no longer cane children – perhaps we don’t teach the plays in the same way, either.  Above all, the word ‘boring‘ should never be said in the same sentence as the playwright’s name – this is almost guaranteed to trigger an infection;
  • if you are a student:  your resistance will be greatly improved by a few facts.  Firstly, remind yourself that Shakespeare is the only author you must study, at GCSE or A Level.  Over 600,000 people answer questions on the plays every year in this country  – regardless of ability.  Common sense reasoning (if you still have the ability to apply it) should suggest that it cannot be too hard.  You may hear voices – these auditory hallucinations (paracusia) often take the form of whispering by peers – that Shakespeare is ‘too hard‘, ‘boring‘, ‘I just don’t get it‘ or ‘not proper English‘.  BEWARE – your classroom is infected.  Arm yourself with a positive mindset, and block these voices out.  Sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting ‘la la, not listening‘ has been proven to be quite effective in these cases.  Quite simply, the official advice is: that if you WANT to be infected, you will be.  If you RESIST, you can beat this awful, debilitating condition;
  • if you are a teacher:  under no circumstances should you act or speak in a way that could be interpreted that studying Shakespeare is in any way tedious or arduous.  A lack of enthusiasm on your part is a major factor in infection rates.

Helpline:  further advice and assistance can be had by contacting us here – the quickest way to do this is by leaving a reply to this post.

APPENDIX 1:  STUDY by Doctors B Head and E Cheap, April 2018

Methodology: we took a sample of 65 (sixty-five) year 8 students who were asked to write a response to a GCSE-style English Literature question under exam conditions. All students were first-language English.

The question was framed in the following terms:

‘How does Shakespeare present _______________ [character] in this speech, and in the play as a whole?’

The rationale for the question was as follows:

  • it broadly followed the AQA GCSE specification;
  • it tested the student’s common sense and exposure to symptoms of Shakesphobia as described above – to answer the question successfully, they were required to use the name of the playwright, but simply had to copy the correct spelling from the question paper;
  • at GCSE, the total marks available for this question are 34 (approximately 20% of the overall award), including a maximum of 4 marks for Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar;


  1. of 65 students, 29 did not use the word ‘Shakespeare’ in their answer, demonstrating mild-medium avoidance symptoms;
  2. of the remaining 36, only 64% were able to successfully spell the word ‘Shakespeare’, despite it being provided for them on the question paper.  The breakdown of the results, and variations of spellings, are reproduced below


These two classes exhibited a mild-medium infection rate, with over a third of those who attempted to do so being unable to apply common sense and correctly copy the spelling of a word from question paper to answer.

BH shakespeare spelling graph

[a]  I am obviously NOT a medical professional, so I especially apologise to those of my students who also study the sciences and can see how poor my knowledge of this sort of thing is … you know who you are – and I know full well that you will rip me to shreds when you read this!  Bacillus!

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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