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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
As You Like It in the Classroom
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1344  Thursday, 24 June 2004

[1]     From:   Kristen Mcdermott <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 09:42:04 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

[2]     From:   Jack Hettinger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 11:36:44 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

[3]     From:   Susan St. John <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 10:10:47 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kristen Mcdermott <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 09:42:04 -0400
Subject: 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

This may be a sidebar, but both Susan St. John and Don Bloom suggest
that it's best to teach plays that we like (or love).  While I certainly
agree with Don that students tend to be influenced by our opinions
(which is why I try -- not successfully, but try -- not to express too
many of them in the classroom), I disagree that personal preference
should guide our choices of plays.  Students often tell me (whether I
should believe them is another question) that they appreciate my
willingness to question the monolithic assumption that all Shakespeare's
plays are great art, or that we're expected to love and admire every bit
of every one of them. For example, I frequently teach "Measure for
Measure," which I personally think is a fascinating but dramatically
flawed play.  My impatience with its characterizations and comedic
structure, I hope, don't get in the way of a stimulating class
examination of its moral complexities and rhetorical genius. Maybe it's
the play, or maybe it's the discussion (or maybe it's the fact that
there's so much sex in it!), but many students decide at the end of the
semester that it was their favorite of the plays.  Conversely, my
raptures over the subversive pleasures of "Twelfth Night" are often met
with incredulous (or bored) stares from students who resent having to
work so hard to get Feste's jokes.  I would be seriously limited if I
only taught the texts I loved best.  Has anyone else had good
experiences teaching plays they don't really like?

Kris McDermott
Central Michigan University

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Hettinger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 11:36:44 -0400
Subject: 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

A couple respondents to my As You Like It query supposed I must not like
the play. Actually, along with Lear, it is closest to my heart,
wonderful wonderful and most wonderful and yet again wonderful, and
after that out of all hooping. And I feel the same affection for my
students. But try what I may, do what I do, the results in my classroom
when we treat AYLI usually are more fizzle than sizzle. If I were an
actor, I would beg to play Rosalind, passionate, clear-eyed, courageous,
shrewd. No, I don't think lack of pedagogical love is the cause of my
sadness. It was Jack Heller's lament that occasioned my own.

Jack Hettinger

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan St. John <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 10:10:47 -0700
Subject: 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

To Jack Heller, who claims "As You Like It seems to have too many
threads for inquiry that can be examined independently of one another",
I would like to recommend a chapter from the book I am currently reading
(I've mentioned it before), "Teaching Shakespeare into the 21st
Century".  In Chapter 14 Marie A. Plasse, from Merrimack College in
Mass., writes of an "Inquiry-Based Approach" she has developed for
teaching SH's plays.

I think it sounds like exactly what you need:  a way to explore the
plays based on the questions that the students themselves raise, and let
go of your preconceived notions about what they SHOULD get out of it.

(I hope that doesn't sound too omnipotent of me, presuming to know what
Jack Heller needs; it just struck me that this essay might be helpful.)

I quote here from Plasse's introductory paragraphs:

"After several years of conducting my undergraduate Shakespeare course
as a traditional Socratic lecture/discussion requiring midterm and final
exams and two four- to six-page papers, I became frustrated with my
students' low level of responsive engagement with Shakespeare...

I began to see that the Socratic Method I had been using was at least
partly responsible for the students' hesitancy to strike out on their
own paths of inquiry.  As many teachers do, I usually brought a set
agenda to every class, and while I welcomed questions and other
deviations from that agenda, my approach to the plays and my sense of
which topics and questions were important completely governed what we
did in class, what options for paper topics the students received, and
what was on the final exam.  Although I believed then (and continue to
believe) that there is nothing wrong with the professor's exercising
this degree of control over the course, I have learned that my students
tend to engage more fully with Shakespeare when I step back from my
customary position of control and call off the Socratic hunt for my own
fully formed interpretations and insights.  My efforts to make the
students' interaction with Shakespearean texts the backbone of the
course and the basis of our daily class work have yielded the
inquiry-based course structure I now use."

She then describes how she helps students to develop their own questions
and write short 'seed papers' that articulate the questions and attempt
to answer them.  This is followed by class discussion of each idea, led
by the student who conceived the question, and subsequent formal papers
based on these ideas (students being allowed to write on any of the
questions raised, not necessarily their own).

It sounds like an excellent model for a college course; I would have
loved it!

Hope this inspires your teaching,
Susan.

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