How Shakespeare Helps Young People Avoid Suicide

Dawn Sanders asks why young people are so attracted to Shakespeare, whose themes include suicide, challenging one’s parents and marrying against their wishes.

Well it’s actually because of these very themes — suicide, challenging parents and going against their wishes, she says.

(Dawn explains all in this article, Part I of her monthly column)

To be or not to be...

“To be or not to be…” asks Hamlet – to the Gods, to the Groundlings – in fact anyone who will listen.

The suicides of Romeo and Juliet – whose fault? – theirs or their parents, Nurse or Friar Laurence?

Why should they not unite in love, not be influenced by family dictates and feuds. 

Ophelia’s suicide — a mixed message

Painting of Ophelia 1851-2, by Sir John Everett Millais

In Hamlet, did Ophelia ‘find the water’ – or ‘did the water find her(as the  Gravediggers contemplate). Confronting the consequences, what are the influences? Religion…family perception…gang acceptance?

Close-reading of Shakespeare, leading to performance of his works, extends into classrooms, drama studios and minds of young people. 

The use of role-play is far from new – and it works.

“Shakespeare wrote the wrong ending [to Macbeth], Miss,” said ‘Jay’+ in one class discussion.

Did Shakespeare provide the ‘wrong’ ending?

+(not his real name). 

On being asked how Shakespeare should have ended the play, the room exploded with different scenarios — from only the killers dying, to all the characters living happily ever after.  

Why were things so different 60 years ago?

Sounds like Polyanna? Well, yes in essence. But how come the childhood and adolescent insecurity statistics were so insignificant back in the 1950s and 1960s? 

Before emails, mobiles, Messenger and FaceBook, one could focus on enjoying life without the insidious effects of recent inventions.  

Today things are different: But drama provides the perfect antidote to what can cause depression and suicide. 

Whether through internet bullying or harassment, or isolation brought on by hiding behind screens, Shakespeare can provide a ‘way out’ — not out of life, but to survival.

Long live Will!   


Dawn Sanders ONZM QSM is a New Zealand theatre scholar, and the founder and current CEO of the Shakespeare’s Globe Centre New Zealand. She received the 2006 Sam Wanamaker Award for her foundation of this centre.

She was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for community service in the 1992 New Year Honours.[1] In the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours, she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to theatre.

Other awards include: 2018 Finalist NEXT Woman of the Year Awards; 2019 Finalist Women of Influence; 2019 Dec Winner Kiwibank Local Hero Award.

The second part of her monthly column will appear soon.


No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.