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Wit and Wisdom: Dr. Matthew Mehan on Teaching Shakespeare

Learn more about Dr. Mehan’s summer workshop here.

In schools today, Shakespeare is often taught superficially. Students attempt to grasp the plot with the aid of their teacher, who helps them through the difficult Elizabethan English. At best they learn something about the beautification of language and the cultural significance of the Bard. But his work is not taught as it was written to be understood, that is, sapientially, for growth in practical wisdom and the ability to see more clearly the nature of man and the man’s relationship with both fellow man and God.

This week on HeightsCast, we welcome back Dr. Matthew Mehan for a discussion of Shakespeare and the education of leaders. Associate Dean and Assistant Professor at Hillsdale’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government, Dr. Mehan helps us see that there is more to Shakespeare than is immediately apparent from a surface-level reading of his plays. He explains how a deep reading of the Bard offers a training in that nimbleness of mind—a good mother wit—without which, St. Thomas More said, all learning is half lame.

To do this, Dr. Mehan walks us through the opening of Hamlet, Act V. Not only does he offer an example of Shakespeare’s genius, he also gives an example of how to teach Shakespeare as not only aesthetically delightful but also morally instructive and useful—the ideal companion to theology and philosophy.

For educators interested in learning more about Shakespeare and how to teach him as a teacher of wisdom, check out the Forum’s summer workshop on Shakespeare.


  • 1:00 How Shakespeare is taught in schools today
  • 3:00 Why and how to study Shakespeare
  • 6:03 Polysemy and the good mother wit
  • 10:13 Literature as experience
  • 12:55 Mirror neurons and man as mimetic
  • 14:10 Ethical gyms and ethical gems
  • 16:25 Shakespeare as Socrates, Nester, and Virgil
  • 19:00 How to approach Shakespeare for the novice
  • 23:10 Opening up the text: Hamlet, V.1
  • 33:40 Shakespeare as teacher of self-government and liberty
  • 35:00 Shakespeare and the American tradition
  • 36:40 Advice for teachers
  • 39:00 Shakespeare as a companion for life

Also from the Forum

Summer Workshops for Teachers

Why Our Politics Needs Poetry with Dr. Matthew Mehan

On Reading Literature by Joe Bissex

Five Fruits of a Poetic Education by Nate Gadiano

In Real Time: The Temporal Order of the Liberal Arts by Dr. Matthew Mehan

On Pieper’s Prudence: A Virtue for the Great Souled with Colin Gleason, Tom Cox, and Austin Hatch

About the Guest

Matt Mehan

Associate Dean & Assistant Professor of Government, Graduate School of Government, Hillsdale College
Dr. Matthew Mehan is the Associate Dean and Assistant Professor of Government for the Steve and Amy Van Andel Graduate School of Government on Capitol Hill. He has been teaching and designing humanities curricula for twenty years. Dr. Mehan is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the valedictorian of his class. He received a B.A. in politics, ...
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