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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: September ::
Re: Shakespeare in Schools
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1775  Thursday, 21 September 2000.

[1]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 17:20:17 GMT
        Subj:   Age and the Time for Studying Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Billy Houck <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 13:55:01 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

[3]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 14:37:33 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

[4]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 16:43:15 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

[5]     From:   Tanya Gough <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 16:47:15 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

[6]     From:   Pat Dolan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 15:54:49 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

[7]     From:   David Crosby <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 17:24:34 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

[8]     From:   Kevin De Ornellas <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 22:38:35 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

[9]     From:   Sophie Masson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Sep 2000 09:20:42 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

[10]    From:   Susan C Oldrieve <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 21:06:21 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

[11]    From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 22:13:33 -0700
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 17:20:17 GMT
Subject:        Age and the Time for Studying Shakespeare

While I get Sam Small's point, that young people struggle with
Shakespeare (of course), Sam has to account for the use of boy actors in
Shakespeare's time.  And apparently, if we take Thomas Middleton's word
for it, the Blackfriar's boys were quite worldly about sex--in all its
expressions.

Jack Heller

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Billy Houck <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 13:55:01 EDT
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

In a message dated 9/20/00 9:58:40 AM, Sam Small writes:

<< I was 25 when I eventually got to college and took English Literature
as
a main subject.  At almost the first class the English lecturer said
that Shakespeare should not be taught to anyone until they are 30. >>

Did you walk away and come back five years later?

- Billy Houck
 who has been successfully teaching and producing Shakespeare's plays
with people under 18 for over 20 years, despite the apparent
impossibility.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 14:37:33 -0500
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

Whereas I can appreciate Mr. Small's observations about the general
inability of younger students to appreciate the beautiful language of
Shakespeare, I don't think I would wait until they are 30 to introduce
them to some of the brilliant plotting and other formal elements of the
works.  I have had considerable success with courses in Shakespeare's
plays and sonnets in both college and high school where the students
have seen some of the subtleties of plots - and sometimes of language -
and have led me to reconsider much of what I had thought I understood.
Nevertheless, I go with Mr. Small thus far:  it is I, not they, who
break into tears when reading such lines as Caliban's "Be not afeard.
The isle is full of noises," or Cleopatra's "His legs bestrid the ocean,
etc.", or - above all - Lear's "Pray you, undo this button."

L. Swilley

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 16:43:15 EDT
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

While I agree with Sam Small that Shakespeare's concerns were obviously
beyond the capabilities of most adolescents, I couldn't disagree with
him more that it's fruitless to expose them to his works.

For 25 years now I have been directing Shakespeare in my little
community theatre to great effect, and a lot of that time has involved
teens and even children.  Do teens think in metaphor?  After they work
with me and Bill, they do.  (Actually, I don't know many adults who
think in metaphor, for that matter.) Do teens mull over this cruel and
wicked world?  You betcha.  Do they walk away comprehending every
element of the work?  No, and neither do I. That's why I keep doing
Bill's stuff: you never can exhaust its possibilities.  I think that's a
useful life lesson for any age.

And after they've finished working on *Romeo & Juliet* this fall as a
theatre production study, our teen group will themselves be enthusiasts,
if not achieving that supraleveldom of bore.

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company
http://newnantheatre.com

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tanya Gough <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 16:47:15 -0400
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

Sam,

I really must protest.

Unlike you, I came to Shakespeare's plays at an early age, having
discovered them among my father's formidable record collection in the
form of spoken word.  I spent hours of my youth pouring over the albums,
playing them back, following the text, sometimes dressing my long
suffering sister as Tybalt and running her through with a broom.  All
this at the tender age of 8.

Now granted, I did not spend my time pondering over the meaning of
individual words.  But the stories were clear to me, even then (and
unexpurgated, I might add), and not knowing a single word or phrase did
not diminish the enjoyment I gained from these albums in the slightest.

In high school I was exposed to Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet,
Midsummer Night's Dream (for which I presented an excellent flow chart
explaining the many changing relationships therein) and Love's Labours
Lost.

In college, my English professor would read passages to us, and in a fit
of overwhelming emotion, would pause dramatically by the window at the
soliloquy's end to compose herself.

How could I not be enamoured of the bard when I was exposed to him in
such a favorable light at so many points of my life?

It is my strong contention that children's minds expand to encompass the
information that is presented to them.  Dickens used to be read to the
little ones as a bedtime story.  Now Dickens is saved for college.
Folks used to be weaned on Pilgrims Progress and Moby Dick from birth.
Again, these books are saved for "specialists" and advanced college
students.  Are today's children less intelligent than they were?  Of
course not.  But the constant dumbing down of our curriculum has had a
terrible impact on our children's capacity to learn.  Give a child the
world to read, and his (or her) mind will grow to encompass it all.
Give children only Dick and Jane, and their minds will have to work so
much harder to fully embrace the cultural heritage we have left for
them.

Granted, young people do not think metaphorically in the same way adults
do.  But they are driven by astonishing imaginations and the ability to
understand far more than you give them credit for.  And you are sorely
mistaken if you believe that they do not "spend inordinate hours
reflecting on the personal aberrations of this cruel and wicked world."
They most certainly do, Sam, and the term for it is teenage angst.

Frankly, Sam, I find your views on this matter to be bassackwards in all
respects.  Saying that an individual should be exposed to certain texts
(or anything for that matter) until they have gained the intellectual
apparatus to approach it - in the manner you seem to consider the ONLY
way to approach it - is like putting the cart before the horse.  The
plays and all of our cultural heritage are the means by which our minds
grow and seek new paths of communication.

And to be sure, not everyone will grow to be an afficionado.  My sister
did not, in spite of my many attempts to integrate her into my
mini-productions (perhaps I should have been less zealous when enacting
Titus Andronicus).  But we owe it to ourselves, our children and future
generations to make our lives as culturally rich and diverse as we can,
and stripping young people of either the potential or the choice to grow
to become Shakespeare lovers (or Dickens, or Melville, or Moliere, or
Schwartzenegger films, for that matter) creates barriers to learning
absolutely contrary to the very principles upon which education was
devised.

Tanya Gough

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Dolan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 15:54:49 -0500
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

>Young people tend not to think
>or speak in metaphor like adults.  Neither do they spend inordinate
>hours reflecting on the personal aberrations of this cruel and wicked
>world.

Sure they do. Teach composition reasonably well and you get to see them
do it.

I have to say that Sr. Louis Clare at St Monica Elementary, Steve Long
at Brebeuf Jesuit (both in Indianapolis) and John Arthos at Michigan
made Shakespeare come alive for me when I was under thirty. I wouldn't
say I understood it then, but I don't make that claim now that I'm a 47
year old Ph.D. either.

Cheers,
Pat

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Crosby <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 17:24:34 -0500
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        RE: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

Sam Small is onto a deep truth about young people when he says they tend
not to think or speak in metaphor like adults. They prefer, like,
simile.

Dave

[snip]  >Young people tend not to think
or speak in metaphor like adults.

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kevin De Ornellas <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 22:38:35 GMT
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

>But teachers continue to hammer out the Bard in schools
>everywhere in the hope that some of it might just stick.

           [Sam Small]

It seems to have stuck to some of the great, young people on this List.

Kevin De Ornellas
Queen's University, Belfast

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sophie Masson <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Sep 2000 09:20:42 +1000
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

I think you're right, Sam, in many ways; but I think Shakespeare should
not be 'taught', but presented to kids from an early age. Especially on
the stage. My children--18, 13 and 10--have all been exposed to Will
that way; the eldest loves both the stories and the language dearly and
on her recent trip to Europe went around catching various performances
of the plays, of her own accord; the two boys love the stories and also
love acting out bits of the plays (esp the gory bits of course). That
was the way my teacher in high school taught Shakespeare too--without
too much analysis, a kind of immersion method that certainly worked for
me. She didn't explain metaphors or anything like that though she did
translate certain words; and though this was a Catholic school,
certainly did not shirk from the sexual aspects (we kids were
embarrassed beyond measure by Hamlet's 'country pleasures' speech for
instance, esp as pur teacher laughed like a drain at the sight of our
shocked faces!). But it was like a seed planted deep, which burst into
full blossom later, as you say, when I was in my late twenties and
thirties. Then, the metaphorical as well as story beauties struck me;
having begun to suffer some of life's slings and arrows as it were, I
also understood characters much more too; as a writer myself, struggling
to encapsulate bits of the strange, terrible, wonderful world we live
in, I was in awe of Shakespeare's delicacy of expression, yet marvellous
and complex robustness of feeling.

I think children need to known Will to a certain extent from a long
time; but for enthusiastic adults to understand that it takes time,
patience, experience of life, to begin to understand the full glories of
the plays. I actually read the stories of the plays to my children from
an early age(there's some very nice modern retellings by such good
writers as Leon Garfield and Geraldine McCaughrean, you're not limited
to Lamb's Tales), and then try to take them to performances as well;
also to 'read around' the plays--eg we read books like Susan Cooper's
recent King of Shadows; we read some of Chaucer's stories, and
folktales, classical myths, etc, to get an idea of the background and so
on. It gives a rich 'etoffe' context, which makes the written plays,
when they meet them, much more understandable. I hope it will give them
something they can grow with and live with all their lives.

Sophie
Author site: http://members.xoom.com/sophiecastel/default.htm

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan C Oldrieve <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 21:06:21 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

I must respectfully disagree with Sam Small when he says that only
middle aged persons can appreciate Shakespeare.  I have seen my children
at 4 and 6 wait eagerly through a very bad production of The Tempest for
Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano to appear; enjoy playing parts of
servants (at 8 and 10) in The Merchant of Venice; insist on naming our
dog Feste; and continue to talk 10 years later about a delightful
production of Much Ado that they saw in Akron in their "younger" years,
and get furiously angry with me when, after seeing Branagh's Hamlet, I
had the nerve to suggest that it was flawed by having no consistent thru
line.

Even when they had no literal understanding of the lines being spoken,
they could respond to the emotion conveyed by the meter, the images, and
the sound of the words and decided once that they would spend an evening
reading Antony and Cleopatra out loud together.

I have also seen my 6th grade girl scout troop become very emotionally
involved in acting out the death of Lady Macduff and her children and
Juliet's rejection by her father.

And currently in the Acting Shakespeare class that I teach every other
year,  I'm watching a group of 18-22 year olds unlock all the
complexities of I Henry IV and find themselves in other characters
besides Hal.

It is my belief that nobody ever comprehends completely everything that
a great work of literature can say and do. The impact and meaning of
great works of art develop and shift with the age and experience of the
viewer.  And as we grow older, probably, like Wordsworth's "little
Actor," we forget the truths of one age as we learn those of the next
age. I've seen people of all ages find themselves in Shakespeare's works
and thrill to his language.

Susan Oldrieve
Baldwin-Wallace College

[11]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Sep 2000 22:13:33 -0700
Subject: 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools
Comment:        Fw: SHK 11.1767 Shakespeare in Schools

Sorry, but I can't agree! I discovered Shakespeare in the seventh grade
and would not want to lose a single week (let alone sixteen or so
years!) of my love affair with his words! I will continue to try to
inspire my students on their potential journey through his work.

Paul E. Doniger
The Gilbert School
 

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