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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: January ::
Re: Mercutio's Mab Speech
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0039  Monday, 12 January 1998.

[1]     From:   AEB Coldiron <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Jan 1998 08:04:15 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Rhodes' Mab

[2]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Jan 1998 11:13:18 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Mercutio's Speech

[3]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Jan 1998 15:49:45 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0037  Mercutio's Mab Speech

[4]     From:   Marcia Tanner  <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Jan 1998 21:31:34 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Paul and Mercutio's Mab speech

[5]     From:   Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 Jan 1998 12:31:26 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 9.0037 Mercutio's Mab Speech


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           AEB Coldiron <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Jan 1998 08:04:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Rhodes' Mab

A few suggestions:

1. Arrange in advance with teachers in schools you will visit to have
students read that speech and understand its basic meaning, including,
ahem, words like "benefice."

2. Begin not with your performance but with a quick review of exactly
what the speech means; ask them to volunteer to put the speech, line by
line, into their own words, and as you go you'll quickly see where the
gaps in comprehension are; these you (also quickly) fill in, still
letting the students "own" the passage.

3. Then explain that you're going to do an interpretation; that while
you've all just agreed on a basic "meaning" (whatever that is), Meaning
is made in performance, in interpretation (you might also point out that
even your collective "basic meaning" involves interpretation, that any
approach to a text includes interpretive intervention and implies a
theory; yet that might get you too close to some unwanted po-mo).  Tell
them that yours is ONE WAY to interpret/perform it, and that you want
them to think about alternatives, for you'll be asking afterwards.

4.      Then perform, and then ask for their responses.

5.      Thus they'll be equipped, or better equipped, to think critically.
One hopes.

Good luck,
A. Coldiron

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Jan 1998 11:13:18 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Mercutio's Speech

Depending on how many students you have, Mr. Rhodes, you may try a Xerox
of the speech, either translated in some way or with definitions for the
old Liz-speak.  Elizabethan is a foreign language for many of us, and I
can sympathize with your difficulties getting the students to interact
with you.

Might I suggest something I tried in Illinois, which seemed to work for
those in the audience who were total strangers to Shakespeare:  try to
transliterate selectively, by which I mean take only the words which are
obscure, old or false friends, give them a modern rendering-preferably
one which doesn't change the meter or the sequence of sounds in the
original (i.e., rhymes, assonances, etc.).  Give this to the students to
read, and even though they hear you speaking the original, they'll see
what you're trying to say more clearly.

As for the interpretation, unfortunately I'm in the cynics camp who
thinks the whole Queen Mab business is a tease, intended to show what a
naive boy Romeo is, not entertain him, just show how ridiculous he is.

Andy White
Arlington, VA

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Jan 1998 15:49:45 -0500
Subject: 9.0037  Mercutio's Mab Speech
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0037  Mercutio's Mab Speech

A cynical view of the Mab speech is that Shakespeare drafted it in his
teens as a grammar school assignment, and has been carrying it around in
his briefcase ever since looking for someplace to plug it in, so that
putting a lot of thematic or characterological weight on it is like
using an ornamental bracket to hang the pulley on by which the piano is
to be hoisted to the ballroom.

As for Paul S. Rhodes getting those freshers to take a fresher look-why
not do it twice, first as though M. had been educated by Andrew Lang,
taking it as though it had come from a late Victorian production of
*Dream*, then in the more psychologically complex way described in
Rhodes' post?

Phantasmagorically,
Dave Evett

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcia Tanner  <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Jan 1998 21:31:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Paul and Mercutio's Mab speech

This is mainly to Paul, but I thought it should probably be sent to the
list.  I don't want to discuss your particular interpretation, but
rather your approach to the high school presentations.  (The
interpretations of Shakespearean lines, scenes, etc. are beautifully
ambiguous, obviously.)

What if you stipulated that all teachers who bring students to the
assembly must have taught R&J, at least past the Mab speech, before
bringing their kids to the assembly.  Perhaps even provide them with
some discussion questions beforehand, so that the students would come
with a mindset and a little knowledge.  (One problem I just thought of
with this is that many of the anthologized versions eliminate or cut the
Mab speech!)  Anyway, that would prime the pump and take care of having
the teach the scene after your presentation, and would leave you time,
then, for the responses.

Marcia

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[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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Date:           Saturday, 10 Jan 1998 12:31:26 -0500
Subject: Mercutio's Mab Speech
Comment:        SHK 9.0037 Mercutio's Mab Speech

Once we get beyond the simplistic: that the Mab speech was one of
Shakespeare's crowd-pleasers written especially for a member of the
playing company and having therefore no essential purpose beyond
entertainment, I believe the key to the speech comes, as for all of
Shakespeare's communication, from the surroundings in which we find it.

What impels the speech?  NOT Romeo's besottedness, but rather his
insistence on external forces driving his life: (I quote from memory;
pardon any minor errors and the lack of appropriate end punctuation... )

R:  "An we mean well in going to this masque,/But 'tis no wit to go."

In other words, not romance but premonition is taking center stage here.
The dialog continues:

M:  "Why, may one ask?"
R:  "I dream'd a dream tonight."
M:  "And so did I."
R:  "Well, what was yours?"
M:  "That dreamers often lie."
R:  "In bed asleep, while they do dream things true."

Mercutio IMMEDIATELY responds, "Ah, then I see Queen Mab hath been with
you."

He proceeds to show the personality-defining nature of dreams, mocking
in the process everyone from parsons to courtiers to lovers of all
stripes, courtly to whorish.  But what he's really mocking is the belief
in dreams, in the power of anything outside oneself to define that self
and its destiny.

When Romeo finally cuts Mercutio off (I always have resented the
Zefferelli version for making Mercutio look like a madman here-I don't
find the speech hysterical at all), he does so by saying, "Peace, peace,
Mercutio, peace!  Thou talkst of nothing."

And the key, to me, to the entire speech is in Mercutio's next line:
"True. I talk of dreams...begot of nothing but vain fantasy...."

For me, this line clarifies his intent, and the poet's.

It is this "vain fantasy" or useless escape from reality such as Romeo
is guilty of that is "as thin of substance as the wind..." and not
Mercutio himself.

Incidentally, I teach the play to 1-3 classes of sophomores in the fall
of each year.  We read all of Acts I-III aloud in class, then gallop
apace through the last two acts.  And I find that doing so allows the
students to find Shakespeare a living breathing force.  That you are
limited to one 50 minute period means that you have to rely on the
classroom teacher to have prepared the classes to be receptive to  you.
And that's always an iffy project.  I've done bits on R&J for my
colleagues, and I am always amazed afterwards at what the kids say to me
in the halls.  So many of them thank me b/c they'd never seen anything
of value in the play... they'd been watching/sleeping through the movie,
or droning through the text w/o any discussion.  I make the characters
come alive, which in my humble opinion is the only way to  make
Shakespeare live.

Maybe the best way to approach those 14-15 year olds is to begin w/
dreams... set the stage *before* performing through some dialog w/ them:
called in pedagogese "anticipatory set."  Actually, there are quite a
few teaching strategies and techniques that make a difference in the
classroom and that a good teacher preparation program (I've taught
methods classes) makes available to prospective teachers.  Which is why
I still believe strongly in requiring people to prepare before they
enter the classroom.

Teaching is an art and a science; it can no more be practiced by anyone
w/ a college degree and a passion for his/her subject than medicine,
law, or engineering.  To imply that it can is to insult those of us who
have made their lives of polishing and practicing our
art/science/passion.

And now I'll step down off my soapbox, since I also value highly those
skilled in poetry and performance who voluntarily share their talents
and sciences with my students even though they are not professional
educators.

Thanks for sharing YOURS!
Marilyn B.
 

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