Dear English/Lit teachers of the world, just stop

August 29, 2016

I recently finished J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter & the Cursed Child and then went online and read some reviews (as one does). And I saw an alarming pattern in quite a few of the reviews I read.

Therefore, I have a request:

Please, please, please, please, PLEASE stop telling your students that plays are meant to be seen and not read.


First of all, it’s not true.

Second of all, they then go out into the world and keep spreading that nonsense in book reviews and blog posts and however else they share information with each other.

Here’s the thing: plays are absolutely meant to be read. They start out as scripts. Plays cannot be produced, acted in, directed, costumed, lit, etc. unless the people involved with the plays READ THEM.

In fact, reading a play takes just as much–if not more–imagination as reading a novel or short story. It’s all about teaching students how to read and engage with the form.

And, yes, details are added in the production of a play that brings it to life, but one person’s interpretation of a character or scene or whatever can be different from another’s, which is why the same staged play can play out differently for different audiences depending on who’s involved with the production.

But isn’t that the same with reading a novel?

Maybe someone prefers to see the play, which is fine, but let’s stop with the whole plays aren’t meant to be read deal, okay? It’s fine to say that sometimes plot or action becomes clearer in the seeing of it, and, yes, Shakespeare tends to be better experienced when we see it since the language can be a bit inaccessible. But, you know, people read the play to put it on for us, so the script is the thing–or, rather, the script is the basis for the whole thing.

And it has to be read. And it can be read and understood. It just takes a different kind of effort is all. So stop telling your students it can’t and shouldn’t be done.

Thank you.

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  1. Brendon

    Yes, I have definitely heard (and probably said) that at one point in my life. I agree with your post 100%, plays need to be read and take more imagination and creativity on the reader’s part to understand and bring it to life! I always wonder why we can’t have an ‘and’ instead? Why does reading and seeing have to be mutually exclusive when it comes to plays? Thank you for this post – I think your opinion in on point!

  2. A.M.B.

    Well said! There are definitely some people who prefer to see plays, but that preference shouldn’t be imposed on others as though it’s a rule.

  3. Bina

    Ha, I’ve been told that a lot by English profs even though we then only went to see a play staged once. So what is that all about… .I do prefer to see plays but I hardly ever get to cause access. So it seems a stupid rule especially since, as you noted, so much thinking and imagination is required to bring a play alive in your mind.



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