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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: September ::
Re: Teaching Shakespeare (Ethiop)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 700 Wednesday, 20 September 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Joseph M Green <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Sep 1995 13:11:19 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0696  Re: Teaching Shakespeare
 
(2)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Sep 1995 15:58:45 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0696  Re: Teaching Shakespeare
 
(3)     From:   Robert Appelbaum <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Sep 1995 20:27:52 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Teaching Shakespeare
 
(4)     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Sep 1995 23:30:02 -0400
        Subj:   Re: ethiop
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Sep 1995 13:11:19 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0696  Re: Teaching Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0696  Re: Teaching Shakespeare
 
What seems odder that Mr. Godshalk's royal "We" was his advice.  He points out
that we must now realize that we don't know the meaning of many Eliz. words and
that "Ethiop" might have just indicated an aesthetic preference. He then
advises that students should simply be told that the word indicates aesthetic
preference and move on.  But, it has not been established that the word only
indicates aesthetic preference and this approach, though possessing the merit
of following the paradigms established by the contemporary, should be follwed
thoroughly to have the desired effect. It might be better if it was explained
to the student that the words of the text may mean whatever they want them to
mean -- and this way declaring a new meaning for Ethiop would be merely the
simple produce of a common day.  By the time the students get to the word the
method would have already been established and no sutures will show.  This
seems much better than following the advice of another poster and just removing
the inconvenient word -- this might be detected and would be inconvenient when
one speculates on the horrible effects the censor might have had on the plays.
 
As a graduate of an historically black college I will mention that informing
students that the word indicates a merely aesthetic preference won't go over
anyway.  There is no better way to arouse suspicion and students know "better"
(rightly or wrongly). It seems better to confront all this right off.  Begin
with Othello and see what happens and then, eventually, you might move the
discussions away from contemporary concerns and have a go at chatting about the
literary.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Sep 1995 15:58:45 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0696  Re: Teaching Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0696  Re: Teaching Shakespeare
 
Eric Armstrong has recently corrected my use of "WE."  Which reminds me, of
course, of the Lone Ranger and Tonto when they are surrounded by hostile
Indians.  I am afraid, however, we are all part of the society in which we
live. There are only a few ways to become unstuck, e.g., suicide.  I do not buy
the Virginia Woolf contention that one segment of society can stand aloof from
another segment.  I think Donne was right: no woman is an island.
 
But I don't think Eric understood what I was driving at.  I was not being
complacent.  I was trying to point out that most of us make non-rational
esthetic judgments.  The "ethiope" question might well lead to a classroom
discussion of these non-rational judgments, and allow us to see ourselves more
clearly. Many of these non-rational judgments may not be conscious.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Appelbaum <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Sep 1995 20:27:52 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Teaching Shakespeare
 
The thread on teaching Shakespeare is petering out for now, but I would
nevertheless like to respond to two posts, one of them aimed toward me.
 
(1) I found Bill Godshalk's response to "Ethiop" stunningly insensitive. It was
the kind of response that only those who have never been victimized by
prejudice can make: it's only an aesthetic judgment!  There is, I think, an
important sense in which Shakespeare's racism is in fact only aesthetic --
since blackness was just beginning to acquire the more sinister meanings it
would adopt in the next century, as a part of the development of the slave
trade.  But Bill, there it is, already in kernel: it is ugly to be be black!
And there are those of us who are old enough to remember when it was ugly to be
a Jew.  If you look at American literature in the 1920s you will find that it
was once thought ugly to be Scandinavian. Only aesthetic judgments?
 
(2) Chris Warley raises the objection that when I argued against condescending
to students I was "essentializing" their "authenticity" as subjects, as well as
the "subversion" I seemed to imply to be their mission vis-a-vis the study of
Shakespeare.  I was doing no such thing. I was, however, calling attention to
what I called the "rehearsal" of old controversies regarding the groundlings --
a controversy to be found in the words of WS himself, and to which I do not
think there is an ultimate solution.  We are all, as even the WS of some of the
Prologues seems to be, caught in a bind between democratic impulses and the
inevitability of hierarchical order.  As teachers we are always on high (we are
the authorities; we are "those who know": we give out the grades).  It doesn't
seem possible that we can get away from that entirely, and for that reason I am
not so opposed as others on the list seem to be to the theatrics with which
some teachers introduce the study of Shakespeare.  I don't like condescension,
but in some hands theatrics can be something of a levelling device.  In any
case, all I was saying was this, without a thought of anything so vexed as a
strategy of decommodifying subversion: we ought to love our students: we ought
to love and respect them.  And our teaching ought to be an expression of that
love.
 
Robert Appelbaum
UC Berkeley
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Sep 1995 23:30:02 -0400
Subject:        Re: ethiop
 
Two thoughts occur to me about "handling" the situation as you described it:
 
1)Turn to Romeo's speech.  There the word 'Ethiop' is used in a positive way,
as the gorgeous backdrop for a brilliant jewel; or at least I've always
interpreted it as positive.  [Of course, he does go on to say she's a dove and
everyone else is crows, doesn't he?]
 
2) Is it too facile to consider that perhaps we are to think less of Hermia for
her use of the word?  I think Bill G.'s take on society's esthetic judgments is
probably appropriate.  Hermia also calls Helena a shrimp--are your short
students offended by that?  Most of Shakespeare's yokels are stupid, and we're
playing Winter's Tale's yokels as Southern yokels, even here in Newnan, GA.
Should my Southern audiences be offended that we are "indicating" stupidity
with their own accent?
 
It's a tough situation.  Good luck!
 
Dale Lyles
 

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