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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: December ::
Re: Teaching, Reading, and Seeing Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 913. Thursday, 9 December 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Tom Derrick <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Dec 93 10:42:43 EST
        Subj:   Reading and Teaching Shakespeare: I.A. Richards' Speculations
 
(2)     From:   Helen Ostovich <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Dec 1993 12:41:56 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0906 Re: Reading, Teaching, and Seeing Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Derrick <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Dec 93 10:42:43 EST
Subject:        Reading and Teaching Shakespeare: I.A. Richards' Speculations
 
I've been reading the pedagogical work of I. A. Richards, who had quite a lot
to say about literacy and Shakespeare. Recent postings that offer short-cuts to
teaching "literature to the unlettered" (see Harvard English Studies 4 (1973))
would have prompted him to remind us of his conviction that systematic
comparison, sequenced practice of construing meaning, controlled paraphrase of
unsimplified passages are essential means of instruction.
 
He assumed that first language learners and students of Shakespeare face the
same challenges, which won't be solved by encouraging guesswork. He was a
methodist, drawing inspiration from Coleridge's putative phrase "speculative
instruments" (cf. Othello 1.3.270) and C. K. Ogden's Basic English, a
restricted vocabulary "dialect" that Richards ceaselessly championed
("Responsibilities in the Teaching of English," Speculative Instruments
(Harcourt, 1955); "Toward A World English," So Much Nearer (Harcourt, 1968).
 
Paraphrase is an often employed method in Shakespeare classes today. Richards
favored restatements that showed the multiple senses of words, rather than
word-for-word substitutions. Here is his gloss on line 4 of Sonnet 68 ("As to
behold desert a beggar born"): "Having to see and recognize and admit and
deeply realize that Merit, the possession of the highest virtue (of which men
of good will should be most regardful, being beholden to and in duty bound to
air and comfort its possessor) may in fact be as little esteemed by the
passer-by and its subject even be as suspect as one born into the beggar's
trade." ("Variant Readings and Misreading," So Much Nearer, 190).
 
My questions for Shakespeare teachers are (1) "In what kinds of ways do you use
paraphrase to encourage students to understand metaphoric or syntactically
complex passages?" (2)"What preliminary exercises enable students to work up to
relatively sophisticated renderings of the language?"
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Ostovich <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Dec 1993 12:41:56 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0906 Re: Reading, Teaching, and Seeing Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0906 Re: Reading, Teaching, and Seeing Shakespeare
 
I find myself appalled at the idea of reformatting Shakespeare into prose,
with the idea of making it accessible to students.  They have little
enough sense of the presence of blank verse as it is, without removing it
altogether!  Don't you hate it when they quote lines as though they were
prose?  Students who don't "get" verse usually profit from hearing it read
to them:  I always recommend audio-tapes for those who have difficulty
with a first reading of a play.  The problem is, of course, that the
voices can slant the students toward a specific interpretation that might
prevent the students from discovering other interpretations -- but that's
a moot point anyway, since without the tape the students might have NO
interpretation.  I think the idea of having students read sentences of the
verse in class is a very good one.  The poetry is still intact, but
students' eyes are redirected to find meaning.
 
The other thing that helps students to read is to force them to
read closely.  My students have to hand in short (250-500 words) essays
that interpret a scene, or a significant long speech, or exchange of
speeches, whenever we begin a new play.  That means they come to class
with an idea about the play that they have already thought about and
worked through to some extent; and when they get into smaller groups for
more intense discussion, they have to defend their ideas and argue with or
assimilate ideas of others.  Even students who begin the term with no
knowledge of Shakespeare at all find after 2 or 3 sessions that they read
and understand more fluently.  I too insist on at least one play review a
term.  Seeing live theatre impresses them far more than video -- although
video clearly is better than nothing.  We were very fortunate this year to
see an excellent production of CORIOLANUS performed by Aquila Theatre
Company, a travelling troupe of 6 players, and the experience opened up
all sorts of discussion about doubling, cutting, symbolic staging, etc.,
that spread into other plays on the course.  For many of them, the
physical presence of the actors and the effectiveness of performance on a
virtually set-less stage were revelations in themselves.
 
Helen Ostovich
McMaster University
 

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