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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: June ::
Re: Pedagogy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1308  Wednesday, 28 June 2000.

[1]     From:   Susan C Oldrieve <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jun 2000 00:06:56 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1293 Re: Pedagogy: History and Formalism

[2]     From:   Patrick Buckridge <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jun 2000 16:50:01 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1293 Re: Pedagogy: Course Structure


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan C Oldrieve <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jun 2000 00:06:56 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 11.1293 Re: Pedagogy: History and Formalism
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1293 Re: Pedagogy: History and Formalism

Here's one possible answer to Pat Dolan's question about balancing
history and formalism in the Shakespeare classroom.

First, the students need to be able to understand the text as a text,
which at the very least involves checking to make sure that they are
understanding the literal meaning of what they are reading.

However, since that literal meaning occurs in a historical context, I
find that explaining the meaning of particular lines that puzzle or
frustrate the students inevitably takes me into explanations of the
historical context of those lines.

That discussion then leads to corrections of such student misconceptions
about topics such as women's roles, sexuality, class and religious
differences.  What we discuss arises from the students' need to know in
order to understand the lines they are reading, so that the
"mini-lectures" that I give, either orally or online, have relevance to
the text under study.  It's a serendipitous process, but it seems to
keep the students interested, and it's fun for me because I have to be
constantly on my toes and up to date in my consumption of research in
order to address whatever comes up.

Also, because I feel that one of the main reasons to teach early period
literature is to give the students an understanding of the history of
social issues that they face today, this discussion of historical
context-- particularly as regards questions of difference (race,
sexuality, gender, disability, class, age)--also gives me an opportunity
to compare Early Modern experience of these conflicts to 21st century
experience and to encourage the students to see the text in light of
their own questions about issues of their day.  They seem to like that,
too.

But all discussions arise from the primary focus of the
course--understanding Shakespeare's texts as texts and as performance.
What history gets discussed is different in each class, depending upon
student questions and interests.

One can never teach EVERYTHING there is to know about a play or an era
in one semester, so my goal is to get the students engaged in the text,
aware of early modern social history and its relevance to their 21st
century lives, and skillful enough readers and viewers of Shakespeare
that they will continue to read his works and attend performances of his
plays to learn more and more throughout their lives.

Susan Oldrieve
Baldwin-Wallace College

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Patrick Buckridge <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jun 2000 16:50:01 +1000
Subject: 11.1293 Re: Pedagogy: Course Structure
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1293 Re: Pedagogy: Course Structure

Pat Dolan said:

>After wading through the ad hominem/feminam, I find that Pat Buckridge
>still hasn't answered the question.

Heavy irony, when it's directed at a well-defined and well-known
intellectual position, is hardly ad hominem.  I accept it can be a
little uncivil, but that's not the same thing, and I was taking my cue
from the post I was responding to.

But to the business.

>What do you do when the students get
>the words ("presently" and a host of others) and the history ("All women
>in the Renaissance did was stay home and raise children.") wrong?

I think these are two very different problems which need to be addressed
very differently. As far as the language is concerned, it's always
seemed to me that the objective should be to make the mental
'translation' to the Elizabethan sense of 'presently' (etc) as seamless
as possible for students, which is why I regret the passing of the
single-word marginal glosses of my old high school editions (with the
longer glosses in footnotes).  I don't know if Pat is suggesting that
some kind of holistic knowledge of the Shakespearean lexis could be
achieved by hammering the students with assertions about how different
the Elizabethans were from them - probably not.  Surely it can only
happen on a word by word basis - and furthermore, internalising the
Elizabethan meanings will largely (not completely) erase the sense of
difference. The student will in effect have expanded her own working
vocabulary to include 'presently-meaning-immediately'.

The second problem raises different questions.  Renaissance social and
cultural life is a subject of ongoing historical scholarship. If you
want to impose a difference/sameness binary on the findings of this
scholarship, then some of it reveals differences, and some reveals
similarities.  I can accept that a lot of important truths about a
period like the Renaissance were obscured or completely hidden by past
historians' expectations of sameness, but there's no reason to doubt
that the same distorting effect will also be caused by a blanket
expectation of difference.  If that's true, then it seems unwise to
convert historical difference from an emerging range of comparabilities
into a simple axiom, which is what it seems to me a lot of so-called
'cultural-materialist' work does.

The pedagogical corollary of this would seem to be to organise your
contextual emphasis strategically, with an eye to the level and degree
of specialisation of the students. So, for example, you might decide to
stress the continuities with the present when teaching Shakespeare to
lower-level, less specialised students (with a few arresting
discontinuities thrown in for effect), and to adopt a more systematic
emphasis on discontinuities with higher-level, more specialised
students.

Either way, I don't see the point of trying to teach Elizabethan history
via Shakespeare. That seems to be putting the cart before the horse.

Pat Buckridge
 

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