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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: September ::
Re: Teaching Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0690.  Sunday, 17 September 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Sep 95 11:16:59 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0680  Re: Teaching Shakespeare (Part 1)
 
(2)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Sep 1995 16:36:49 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0686  Teaching: Questions, Comments, and Observations
 
(3)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Sep 1995 18:30:02 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0686  Teaching
 
(4)     From:   Naomi Liebler <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Sep 95 23:4  7:00T
        Subj:   RE: SHK 6.0686  Teaching: Questions, Comments, and Observations
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Sep 95 11:16:59 EDT
Subject: 6.0680  Re: Teaching Shakespeare (Part 1)
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0680  Re: Teaching Shakespeare (Part 1)
 
Although the "why package Shakespeare" debate has quieted down, I would just
like to throw in my two cents worth. Which is, we are not packaging
Shakespeare, but ourselves. I can still remember being an undergraduate (and
graduate), faced with required or even elective classes. My first question was
not "Will I like this author/period?" but "Will I like the professor." I'm sure
that we have all had interesting subjects turned boring or (worse!) con-
frontational because of a professor with different theoretical views, or a
complete lack of classroom style. I suspect that even those students who have
signed up for Shakespeare wholeheartedly are wondering how the professor views
the "pinacle of English literature" and they are probably relieved to find that
no one is expected to bow down and worship.    Annalisa Castaldo
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Sep 1995 16:36:49 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0686  Teaching: Questions, Comments, and Observations
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0686  Teaching: Questions, Comments, and Observations
 
In response to Thomas Ellis's comments on "ethiop," I would like to suggest
that we don't always understand the vocabulary of the past.  Alan Desson's new
study of theatrical vocabulary makes that point very clearly.  Was "ethiop" a
racist expression in the 1590s?  I have no idea.
 
But we do know that Tudor men seem to have preferred blondes.  And some
sonneteers, including Shakespeare, make hay of the paradox that their ladies
are both beautiful and dark. So "ethiop" may imply an esthetic judgment, and
what we may see as a racist comment may merely be a metaphor.  Hermia is dark
skinned and, therefore, not "really" very pretty.
 
Now I realize that this esthetic judgment may be tough on those of use who have
more melanin than the rest of you, but think of all the esthetic judgments that
WE make, judgments that exclude so many of us:  tall and slim are good; short
and fat are bad. Old is bad; young is good. Again and again, we make
exclusionary judgments based on non-rational criteria.
 
So we might point out to our students that Hermia's "ethiop" is one of these
non-rational, exclusionary esthetic judgments. And the discussion can go from
there!
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Sep 1995 18:30:02 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0686  Teaching
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0686  Teaching
 
Thomas Ellis;
 
Regarding the difficulties in dealing with the racism in Shakespeare, are you
teaching high school? Freshmen? Kids with no background yet in Shakespeare?  My
suggestion is to change the word. Let them get to know him first. For the sake
of one word, or even three or four, why run the risk of losing them forever to
the pleasures Shakespeare has to offer? Get the play photocopied and change or
cut where necessary.
 
Stephanie Hughes
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Naomi Liebler <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Sep 95 23:47:00 EST
Subject: 6.0686  Teaching: Questions, Comments, and Observations
Comment:        RE: SHK 6.0686  Teaching: Questions, Comments, and Observations
 
To Thomas Ellis: thank you for sharing with us that very difficult moment when
your African-American students winced at the term "ethiop." I would suggest
that something very special happened in your class that day: instead of you
teaching them, this time it was your students who were the teachers and you
were their pupil. You said, "I feel my students' pain, but I feel powerless to
ease it, yet at the same time, loath to trivialize it." Good. DON'T try to
"ease it" (you can't); and for heaven's sake DON'T "trivialize it." Though we
often pretend that they are, the fact is that Shakespeare's plays aren't
comfort food. They raise awkward, difficult, and as you saw, painful issues.
Perhaps we are more accustomed to readingthose issues in the tragedies and
romances, but I have found cause for cringing in a number of comedies--most
obviously MV (the cringe really hit hard when I listened to the Berliner
Ensemble cast members spit out the word "Jude" in a German-language production
in Edinburgh last month). Sometimes I even cringe at moments in AYLI and TN. No
matter--chacun a son alienation. Your students "got" an engagement with the
play that caucasians can only intellectualize into some kind of safe, quaint,
historicized, distant racism. And they gave it back to you in what appears from
your narration of the moment to have been open, honest, undefended experience.
You were privileged indeed. Not many people teaching Shakespeare, not even
those who long for a good old-fashioned "emotional" response (vs. a coldly
analytic, theorized one), get that kind of in-your-face pure response from
their students, or indeed from anyone else. Treasure that--and them.
 
Cheers,
Naomi Liebler
 

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