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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: September ::
Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0670.  Tuesday, 5 September 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Shannon Murray <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Sep 1995 12:41:03 -0400 (AST)
        Subj:   Shakespeare on the first day
 
(2)     From:   Fiona C. Quick <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Sep 95 19:45:13 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0667  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
(3)     From:   Thomas Ellis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Sep 1995 21:33:44 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0667  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shannon Murray <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Sep 1995 12:41:03 -0400 (AST)
Subject:        Shakespeare on the first day
 
SHAKSPEReans:
 
I usually begin my first Shakespeare course with the kind of warning we get in
Canada before shows like "This Hour has 22 Minutes":
 
    This course contains nudity, coarse language, violence, sex, and
    mature themes.  Viewer discretion is advised.
 
A little cheap, perhaps, but I need to counteract the attitude most of my
students (a culturally homogeneous bunch) come to Shakespeare with: he's dull
and he talks funny.
 
The rest of the class is a glance at scenes from the plays we'll look at, with
a longer discussion of three takes on the Agincourt speech in HV (the BBC,
Branagh, and Olivier versions) .  I use the films and give enough of the
context for the clips to make some sense, and with each, I introduce the kind
of questions that we'll tackle through the term. My objective is to have them
leave thinking that Shakespeare is not dull and that if I show them a film
version I expect them to think more and not less about the play.
 
I also have a little contest, the prize for which is some kind of Shakespeare
thingy (this year a postcard from the Globe reconstruction): usually it's to
name the most plays by Shakespeare that they can.
 
I love first days: it's the rest that give me trouble.
 
                            Shannon Murray
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Fiona C. Quick <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 5 Sep 95 19:45:13 -0500
Subject: 6.0667  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0667  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
>I tell my students that Bill Shakespeare has just been waiting for them to come
>along. For those who fancy themselves as existential thinkers I offer them
>Hamlet and
>King Lear. I inform them that Shakespeare wrote about sex, love, sex, death,
>sex, torture, sex and more sex.  By now they are starting to pay attention. I
>assign them various scenes from Macbeth, Lear and Hamlet to read in front of
>the class. Some students get into costume, bring Elizabethan foods to class and
>do entire stage productions. Bottom line- it WORKS!
 
As a member of the so-called Generation X, I feel I must respond to some of the
above comments.  If you are referring to 17 or 18 year olds, they are not
really part of the same generation as I (age 26) and I believe that the "X"
label is overgeneralised.  However, even as a teenager, the sexual themes were
not the only things that interested and intrigued me about the Bard.  By far
what created my interest was the enthusiasm of my teachers, from my elementary
teacher Mrs. Eastman, to my junior high teacher Mrs. Shardlow to my high school
teacher Mr. Meacock.  They all brought Shakespeare to life for me without
resorting to the advertising philosophy of "sex sells"; they took the time to
make us accustomed to the language and enjoy the beauty of it.
 
I was also most fortunate enough to have Chris Gordon as an instructor at the
University, and she has perhaps been the greatest inspiration for me. She did
not talk down to the class, but instead shared her enthusiasm for Shakespeare,
making him come alive, and it rubbed off on all of us. Undergraduates do not
need to be "goaded" into studying Shakespeare by relying on sexual or violent
themes, instead the emphasis on *all* themes, and especially contemporary
applications of those same themes, is the most effective.  Please do not
underestimate "Generation X."
 
Fiona C. Quick
University of Minnesota
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Ellis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Sep 1995 21:33:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0667  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0667  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
Well, my first Shakespeare class has come and gone this year. I followed
someone's suggestion (I forget who, but thanks!) in having the students
"free-associate" on Shakespeare initially. The responses were quite revealing:
"boring" and "intimidating" turned up with roughly the same frequency as
"brilliant" and "inspired." My favorite was the student who wrote, among other
things, "tights" and "Thou". I observed how their responses revealed a blend of
awe and resentment--or fear of the textual difficulty. Then I emphasized the
fact that Shakespeare's culture was utterly alien to our modern world in most
respects, noting, for example, that no one in Shakespeare's time ever would
have imagined such a claim as "All men are created equal"--which is now the
default ideological presupposition of our culture (at least in theory). I then
handed out a xerox of Robert Fludd's 1611 cosmological map ("Integrae naturae
speculum artisque imago"), complete with Primum Mobile, planetary spheres, and
Lady Natura chained to God in one direction and to her ape-like Man in the
other. My point was that this was, for Shakespeare and his contemporaries, a
map of the "real" world. I accompanied it with a handout of Ulysses' speech on
Degree from *T & C*, which we read together, observing that the natural, moral,
and social order were regarded as essentially identical, and contrasting that
world view with our own.
 
But then, having emphasized the strangeness of Shakespeare's conceptual
universe, I showed how paradoxically *relevant* Shakespeare could be to the
world of 1995 by emphasizing the climactic lines of Ulysses' oration:
 
"Then everything include itself in power/Power into will, will into
appetite/And Appetite--a universal wolf--so doubly seconded with will and
power/Must make perforce a universal prey/And last eat up itself".
 
Then I just said "Disney."
--Tom Ellis
 

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