Monday, January 25, 2010

Shaking My Speare: My Take on Shakespeare I

Ok, it's a silly title I know. I'm doing my first all Shakespeare course. I've done various Shakespeare plays and sonnets in Brit Lit surveys and other courses organized around a theme. I usually take a theme in general lit classes and do a diachronic set of readings from the ancient to the modern and so some Shakespeare often fit in there.

But this is my first Shakespeare course, and as long as I'm a contingent employee, the closest I'll come to teaching anything medieval for the foreseeable future. So I thought I'd try and blog what I'm doing, how I'm doing it, what I think about it and what is working and what isn't. All comments are welcome.\

It is a 200 level course at a community college. And as usual I have a range of students; on one extreme is the Ren faire/Elizabethan enthusiast who knows quite a lot, the theater person who has performed but never studied the works of the Bard, down to the other extreme of the inner city kids who are taking it because it fulfills they're Humanities credit, it fits their schedule, and have maybe encountered some Shakespeare in high school.

I've set the usual sort of thing in terms of assignments: mostly on a daily basis reading, approx an act per 1 1/2 hour class. 2 exams, 2 papers, 2 related group projects, participation and discussion round out the grading requirements.

Our first class last week, I "lectured" if you can call what I do lecturing, giving a historical background to the Elizabethan period, and the major intellectual ideas. I then paired the 25 students up and gave them a sonnet or short passage--time to get the feet wet with some Shakespeare text. The assignment was to imitate those Geico insurance commercials from a while back: the ones where you have the real person telling their story, and the "famous" actor or person to help tell their story. The task for the class then is for one group member to present the text as is, and the other to "interpret" in some way. They could play it straight, make it funny, sing it...the only requirement is to capture the meaning of the passage. I generally chose well-known passages and sonnets that we likely will not do in the course.

We will finish those presentations in our third meeting tomorrow and then leap into our first play Henry V. I plan to spend some time on the Chorus' prologue, a too oft overlooked passage in my view, and examine the use of the chorus, the invocation of the muse, the interweaving of classical and biblical references, the propaganda aspects, and then to show Olivier, Branagh, and Plummer versions of the prologue to show some differences. This all may spill over into Thursday's class, but we'll see.

I'm looking forward to this class. It's the only lit class I've done in a year for one thing, and unlike last year's Fiction course, fun in its own right, this Shakespeare one is at least close to my field. So that's kind of exciting if you ask me.


Steve Muhlberger said...

I hope your students will appreciate your enthusiasm.

theswain said...

Thanks, Steve...for some it is likely the only thing they'll appreciate!