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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: December ::
Re: Teaching and Reading Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 881. Thursday, 2 December 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Phyllis Rackin <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Dec 1993 10:35:14 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   teaching undergrads to read Shakespeare's plays
 
(2)     From:   Paul Austin <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Dec 93 11:03:31 EST
        Subj:   Teaching College Students how to read Shakespeare
 
(3)     From:   Kevin Berland <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Dec 93 12:38 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0872  Re: Electronic Scholarship and Texts
 
(4)     From:   Piers Lewis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Dec 1993 08:03:02 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Reading Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Phyllis Rackin <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Dec 1993 10:35:14 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        teaching undergrads to read Shakespeare's plays
 
I ask the students in my introductory Shakespeare class to organize study
groups with about six  people in each and meet twice a week outside of class
to read the plays aloud, taking parts.  I also give study questions each
time I assign a new play and unannounced quizzes from time to time during
the semester on the first day a play is to be discussed.  It seems to
work pretty well.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Austin <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Dec 93 11:03:31 EST
Subject:        Teaching College Students how to read Shakespeare
 
Being a recently former college student, I offer this advice:
 
1.) read it in class
2.) make all students read a part to keep them involved
3.) don't show the videos until after the play has been READ
4.) show them how to use the notes (this helped immensely in a
    Chaucer class) and encourage them to maek up the text
5.) make the material relevant
 
Why?
 
1.) if you read it in class you can be sure it's being read,
    rather than the book supporting a keg
2.) if each student has to read you get an idea of the different
    problems people might be having (if one person has it may be
    the whole class does) or at least what problems specific
    students may be having
3.) videos give students the excuse of relying on imagery to
    understand the story, rather than the actual plot line (you
    could mime a play, as does Hamlet in the play within a play,
    and have it understood, but you want them to understand the
    complexities and beauties of the LANGUAGE)
4.) a lot of kids  (I was one) are confused by these immense texts
    (we had Riverside editions). Brooke Pierce and Tony Annunziata
    showed us how to use the notes and encouraged us to mark the
    books up in pencil to help us understand - it was slow at first
    but it sped up and we ALL got better as the semester progressed
5) arguments about historicity and understanding Elizabetahns through
   their eyes aside, it does help students to have the material made
   relevant to their times. if shakespeare could make all the works
   and lessons of antiquity understandable to people of his time, then
   we should do that to. my teachers used to do this in any number of
   amusing or dramatic ways, and it worked.
 
Paul Austin
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kevin Berland <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Dec 93 12:38 EST
Subject: 4.0872  Re: Electronic Scholarship and Texts
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0872  Re: Electronic Scholarship and Texts
 
Bill asks whether there has been a decline in reading skills -- I cannot
answer this question, really, for three reasons: 1) how do we measure this?
I've been teaching 11 years, and when I complain about a decline in
reading skills my father (also a teacher of literature, now retired) says
Yes, it's *always* been declining;  2) I have a mixed group of students,
nearly half of whom are "nontraditional," i.e. <24 yrs. old, and some of
them read very well;  3) there is a very real decline in reading (both
in a general sense and in a particular sense -- a larger proportion of
students do not do the assigned reading at all...
 
The 1st lines of 12th Night?  A lot of people experience post-coital
hunger (especially in this non-smoking age), and music is a good
substitute.  This is a question: Duke Orsino (the Bear) starts the
play with the word "If" -- but the question is not answered.  The play
goes on (the second half of line 1).  Duke Orsino employs the figure
of bulimia, wishing for excess as a method of suppressing his hunger --
he is fat (why else would he be Orsinio = Ursino = the little Bear, but
even little bears are fatter than people, even Dukes?)  He is so fat
that listening to music strains him, and he fears that he might fall
over, perhaps breaking a hip, which in elderly people can be fatal.
He has already fallen on his ear, causing aural hallucinations, in
which sight (floral identification), sound (breathing), and olfactory
stimulation (banked violets) are conflated in the pathology known to
psychologists as synaesthesia (not an uncommon malady in Shakespeare's
brain-damaged characters; qv Bottom's claim to see a voice).  Like
most cases of people with eating disorders, he rationalizes his binges
by equating "enough" with "no more."  And once he has consumed and
purged, he denies his craving by claiming it lacks the sweetness he
once attributed to it.  He has repressed his knowledge of the cause of
his disorder (love), appealing (in culinary terms) to its "fresh" nature
while at the same time introducing terms symbolizing limitless
receptive capacity (boundless ocean), which, in the context of the
regurgitation imagery, obviously indicates a deluded estimation of the
world's capacity to absorb whatever he jettisons.  Obviously there is
no commercial resale value for such material -- to suggest that there
is would be fantastical.
 
See?  Anybody can read the 1st lines of 12th Night.  (Sorry -- to my
left I see -- and am studiously avoiding -- a pile of papers waiting to
be marked....)
 
Kevin Berland
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Piers Lewis <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Dec 1993 08:03:02 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        Reading Shakespeare
 
I quite agree with Bill Godshalk's comment to Kevin Berland about
the reading skills of our students:  most college students now read
poorly, especially when they hit Shakespeare for the first time.  Why?
Thousands of hours of tv in the formative years can do a lot to blunt the
powers of the mind, no doubt, but that can't be the whole story.  We
might also want to consider the fact that the only literary experience
our students have had is reading journalistic prose and journalistic
fiction.
 
Asking students to paraphrase the opening lines of 12th Night,
strikes me as a pretty severe test.  As it happens, I've just
been mulling that scene over myself in the light of Dover Wilson's
analysis, which now seems too simple and too clear.  Orsino is a very
subtle, strange and not very likable man and his lines in this first
scene are as metaphorically dense and psychologically peculiar as any
in Shakespeare; managing to be somehow both delicate and coarse.
My students also made hash of them.  But that, I think, was only to be
expected.  Nothing in their experience, literary or psychological, could
have prepared them for poetry as metaphorically dense or convoluted
or kinky as this.
 
What can we do to help our students become better readers?  I don't
know.  It helps, a little, to have them read aloud and we do as much
of that as we can find time for.  It's painful, I know, but necessary.
They have to hear Shakespeare's language and they have to have it
in their mouths before they can make sense of it.  I also have them
write something, one page, for almost every class--something very
specific:  a paraphrase, an explanation of a metaphor or an action,
a comment on a character or a role--anything to get them to connect,
somehow, with the words and poetry of these plays.
 

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