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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: September ::
Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0672. Thursday, 7 September 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Robert Appelbaum <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Sep 1995 10:46:07 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0670 Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
(2)     From:   John Boni <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Sep 1995 13:08:42 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0670 Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
(3)     From:   Scott Crozier <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Sep 1995 11:50:52 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
(4)     From:   Lisa Broome <
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        Date:   Wed, 6 Sep 1995 22:27:49 CST6CDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
(5)     From:   Robert Dennis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Sep 95 07:42:41 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
(6)     From:   Robert Dennis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Sep 95 08:49:27 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
(7)     From:   Bill Dynes <
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        Date:   Thursday, September 7, 1995
        Subj:   Teaching Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Appelbaum <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Sep 1995 10:46:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 6.0670 Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0670 Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
I would like to follow up on Fiona Quick's remarks, because I think she has put
her finger on something important.  Questions about teaching WS to
undergraduates have evoked a number of enthusiastic and engaging responses --
the love of teaching and of WS alike is bursting out of every word.  And yet
there is an unmistakable note of condescension in most responses.  These
dedicated and surely effective teachers all think that what they have to do in
the beginning is package WS in a certain way; they feel that they have to make
his work look like an appealing commodity, a Hollywood kind of thing, only
better.  And they have to do this because their students are so easily bored,
and so little used to something like "substance."
 
Of course we all need our hooks, our opening speeches, we need our Chorus to
come on stage for our students, we need to generate both a little excitement
and a little bit of context, of order; we need to let our students know what
they are in for.  And I am not asking anyone to change anything they do.  But I
am wondering about the assumption that students are already too intellectually
corrupted, already too shallow, to respond to a serious engagement with the
works of WS seriously presented.  No doubt this is true about some students;
but is it even true about most of them?  Or is the shallowness of our students
not perhaps a construction (the c-word again!) that we are imposing upon them?
 
It seems that when we talk about what we do *for* our students we end up
replaying the old controversies about the groundlings; we seem to be in the
habit of looking at our students from on high.
 
Robert Appelbaum
UC Berkeley
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Boni <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Sep 1995 13:08:42 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0670 Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0670 Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
Fiona Quick's post on this topic touched me.  Some of us condescend to our
students, many of whom notice that.  What is intriguing is the extent to which
Shakespeare remains a topic of intense interest among young students.  I've
been teaching courses in Shakespeare (as best as I can) for almost thirty years
in three very different universities, currently in an urban, commuter, minority
institution.  I've taught future PhDs, All-American athletes, actors,
engineers, forestry and agriculture students, serious and dilletantish.  No,
they didn't ALL find it wonderful.  (Wouldn't it be frightening if "they" ALL
were of a mind....I'd be worried if everyone agreed with me...in either of my
roles). But thoughtful students were attracted, some others were teased into
thoughtfulness...
 
Without going on too long (If I haven't already...), I try to give some
background, describe a talented, aggressive person, who wanted to make money
(nothing wrong with that) by writing quality, attractive work.  Then let's see
what it is tht attracts us--all of us together trying to figure that out by
paying close attention to the texts and using our minds.
 
I continue to enjoy it.
 
John M. Boni
Northeastern Illinois University
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Crozier <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Sep 1995 11:50:52 +1000
Subject: 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
I am glad that someone, at last, has stated that there is no need to sell
Shakespeare with gimmicks. I was enthralled by, and I hope I enthuse my own
students by, passion. If, as a teacher, you can excude a love for the plays,
their language and the teaching of students then I don't think you can go
wrong.
 
Yours ever,
Scott Crozier
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lisa Broome <
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Date:           Wed, 6 Sep 1995 22:27:49 CST6CDT
Subject: 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
I might be getting into this discussion a bit late, but I had to comment about
Shakespeare's sex appeal to my undergraduates. I thought that approach would
intrigue them.  But down here (apologies for generalizations all round), my
students freeze up at the mention of S--!  They've come across as incredibly
conservative, perhaps unwilling to admit they have hormones.  Could be that I'm
too close in age to some of them and that throws them. I've somewhat alleviated
the problem by joking that yes, even as early as the first class, we'll have to
talk about sex, and they should please not dismiss Bill as a or our class as
tramps for his/our attention to the S-subject.  They laugh and we proceed.
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Dennis <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Sep 95 07:42:41 -0400
Subject: 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
Shannon Murray wrote:
 
     >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) .
 
You should consider the take of the HV Agincourt speech in the comedy
"Renaissance Man" starring Danny DeVito (in video stores everywhere).  The
speech is given during maneuver drills by a relatively unknown actor playing
the part of a recalcitrant draftee, forced by the military to take Danny
DeVito's class in Shakespeare.  Although the movie-makers suggest by the
overall setting that the speech might be from Hamlet, you can still enjoy the
delivery and the way in which the speech fits with the irony of the movie's
plot.  It is one of my favorite deliveries of that particular speech.  And,
because it comes from a very contemporary movie, the freshmen/sophomores of
today might relate to its delivery as well as the stories in "Renaissance Man".
 
Bob D.

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(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Dennis <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Sep 95 08:49:27 -0400
Subject: 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0670  Re: Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates
 
To Teachers Everywhere:
 
I cannot resist comparing the mature analytical statements of Fiona Quick,
 
     >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."
 
with the rather condescending, overly cute, and in some aspects downright
wrong attitude of Thomas Ellis,
 
     >having the students "free-associate" on Shakespeare initially
     >I emphasized the fact that Shakespeare's culture was utterly alien
     >no one in Shakespeare's time ever would have imagined such
     >a claim as "All men are created equal"
     >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.
 
     >emphasized the strangeness of Shakespeare's conceptual universe,
     >I showed how paradoxically *relevant* Shakespeare could be
 
     >Then I just said "Disney."
 
To be fair, let me say what I find repulsive in the Ellis approach (I would
have immediately dropped his course!).
   1)  What is a student going to learn through the "free association" of his
peers on the name Shakespeare?  This starts the class on a BORING note.
   2)  Shakespeare's culture was not "utterly alien" to our own.  Many
historians view Elizabethan times as essentially modern.
   3)  Ellis goes on to claim that Shakespeare is "paradoxically "relevant'",
when I do not see a paradox at all.  Shakespeare is relevant to us because he
wrote about universal problems, universal situations, universal human persons.
 He also used a lot of English history for his settings, although it is mixed
in its validity.
   4)  I recall numerous passages in Shakespeare where the notion of equality
is strongly expressed.  If pressed, I can dig up precise citations.  The
notion that "all men are created equal" is not solely a modern preserve.
   5)  I am sure every student kept a treasured copy of the xerox Ellis handed
out.  One of the problems with such handouts is that unless Ellis is also a
science history authority and an art authority, he is unlikely to be able to
inform the students of the context or significance of these two handouts.
This almost sounds like a staff meeting in some bureaucracy.
   6)  Saving the worst til last: I must have misunderstood, but I read that
Ellis compares Shakespeare to current Disney productions or Michael Eisner's
pronouncements and plans, or something like that???  And this is supposed to
make WS appeal to young persons?  What about those who never liked Disney
stuff, thought it was childish or silly?  You have sent the wrong message to
every single student.
 
Why not teach Shakespeare as Shakespeare?  I must be missing something.  Like
Ms. Quick I recall numerous excellent teachers of English in 9th-12th grades
and several in college who let us have at the original guy, warts and all. They
gave us the text.  They helped us with the text.  They listened to hairbrained
and to excellent student interpretations.  They listened patiently to some
good, some fair, and some wretched student readings.  What they DID NOT DO is
APOLOGIZE for William Shakespeare!  When you talk down to your students by
trying to explain to them why they might find him relevant to their daily
lives, or cute, or quaint, you insult both Shakespeare (you are saying that you
can tell it better than WS's original material can) and the student (you are
telling him/her that she/he cannot grasp the meaning of the original work so
you will interface for him/her).
 
There is much danger in such an approach.  Just such attitudes allow society to
gradually slip into despotism, as when earlier leaders instituted laws that
only the "informed" churchmen could read Bibles; laws to prevent slaves from
reading material which they would "misunderstand"; laws to prevent spreading of
dangerous materials or technological advances.  Less threatening in the short
term, you will, nevertheless, lose an entire generation of Shakespeare readers
if you insist on a condescending "let's have fun" type of classroom.
 
I recognize the legitimacy of creative classroom techniques and my hat is off
to the professor who can create the dynamic kind of classroom I recall from
some of my undergraduate courses.  But this creative attack must be inspired
from among the students.  You cannot forcefeed creativity, spontaneity.  A
narrow path to walk, I realize, yet so important that it not be turned into
trivia.  In another post, I recommended the movie, "Renaissance Man".  I repeat
the recommendation in this context.  The same kind of problem is treated: how
to teach Shakespeare to young persons today.  I'll give you a clue:  he does
not compromise.
 
Respectfully and sincerely,
Bob D.

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(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Dynes <
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Date:           Thursday, September 7, 1995
Subject:        Teaching Shakespeare
 
Several others have mentioned the desire to "de-mystify" Shakespeare early in
the semester.  One trick I use is to read my students the excerpt from
Manningham's _Diary_ recounting Shakespeare's usurping the pleasures of an
affectionate citizen from Burbage, telling him that William the Conqueror was
before Richard the Third.  The story may be apocryphal, but it shakes my rather
conservative students out of their bardolatry!
 

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