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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: Shakespeare Bashing
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0558  Friday, 9 March 2001

[1]     From:   Stephen Dobbin <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Mar 2001 16:48:52 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Bashing Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Mar 2001 14:48:02 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   SHK 12.0549 Re: Shakespeare Bashing

[3]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Mar 2001 21:01:13 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0549 Re: Shakespeare Bashing


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen Dobbin <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Mar 2001 16:48:52 +0000 (GMT)
Subject:        Bashing Shakespeare

Stephanie Hughes writes of Volpone: 'Perhaps it works in performance
(I've never seen it done). It sure isn't funny on the page.' Then a few
lines later writes: 'I thought poorly of Jew of Malta until I saw Ian
McDiarmid in it in London in 1999, where it came to marvellous,
compelling life.

The moral is almost too obvious. Yet how many of us willingly
acknowledge never having seen a particular play in performance, while
still claiming to have studied it in depth. To what extent were
Coleridge's, insights - to take a safely dead example - limited by never
having seen many (all?) of the plays he lectured about?

The analogy with music is worth making. Professor X may be a superb
musicologist, capable of realising a complex symphony in his mind purely
by studying the full score. But how would I react if, after reading his
book 'Beethoven's 5th : Meaning and Sentiment' I discovered that he had
only ever studied the work in score; never heard it in concert, on CD,
or even in piano transcription?

Granted, we have a slim chance of finding a production of  'The Massacre
at Paris' to help us with our paper 'From Douai to Deptford: Marlowe and
some issues of Anger Management in Early Modern Europe' But we must also
acknowledge that, never having seen 'Massacre' on stage, certain
insights into the play will always be denied us.

Stephen Dobbin.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Mar 2001 14:48:02 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Shakespeare Bashing
Comment:        SHK 12.0549 Re: Shakespeare Bashing

Ed Taft writes:

>he history of teaching Shakespeare in American high
>schools reveals that, initially, Romeo and Juliet
>was chosen because the
>language in the play was judged to be far easier to
>read than in other
>Shakespeare plays.

Also, when Zeffirelli's 1968 film appeared, R&J quickly acquired a
reputation for being "relevant" (a highly desirable pedagogical quality
then) to the lives of young teenagers.  The film became available to
high school AV rooms quite soon after its initial release, and with the
advent of video became even more accessible.  Hey, why bother actually
TEACHING another Shakespeare play when you can plug in the video, tell
the kids to watch closely for the fleeting nude scene, and go do the
crossword at your desk in the back of the room?

(Before the high school teachers on the list start throwing things at
me, let me just say that I used to be a high school English lit. teacher
myself, and I have SEEN this happen all too often.)

Before the advent of R&J as THE introductory Shakespeare play, I
understand that Julius Caesar enjoyed a degree of popularity in this
position.  Some of my friends who still teach high school have reported
that there seems to be a small movement afoot to resurrect JC in the
English Lit curriculum.  I also recall reading in a late 1950s-early
1960s novel (*The Blackboard Jungle*, I believe) a reference to Henry V
at one time being an ordinarily-taught-in-high-school Shakespeare play.

Having wandered far from Shakespeare-bashing, let me close by saying
that R&J is among my least favorite of the plays, for all the reasons
that others have already mentioned.  If you want a Shakespearean love
story, go with Much Ado About Nothing (which, by the way, I have taught
with much success to high school students!).

Cheers,
Karen E. Peterson

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 Mar 2001 21:01:13 -0800
Subject: 12.0549 Re: Shakespeare Bashing
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0549 Re: Shakespeare Bashing

> Interestingly, however, parents often have a tough time with
>Romeo and Juliet,
> and censors often try to get it out of American classrooms.  The
> reason is
> that some parents read the play as "glorifying suicide" -- a
>real concern of
> parents of teenagers these days. Some parents either want the
>play dropped or
> want it taught as an object lesson in what happens if teenagers
>DON"T obey
> their parents (!).

What could be better than the kind of in-depth examination of a
situation that might lead to suicide offered by reading this play?  The
process of reading and discussing (or better, enacting it) gives kids a
chance to respond to the story and to bring up their personal feelings
about suicide. Certainly when Friar Lawrence lambastes Romeo for
considering it, his marvelous speech has got to be one of the most
eloquent arguments ever made against suicide. And when parents are
brought into the process they will usually come to see it from this
point of view. (Watch out for media reports. So often the extremes are
the only views presented.)

     Stephanie Hughes
 

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