Friday, February 19, 2010

Shakespeare II

So we've finished Henry V now in class. I've taken, for this play, an historicist approach focusing on play vs. history as well as how Shakespeare's depiction of Henry as epic hero and all the attendant themes might have some application to understanding Shakespeare's England.

In the details: I went through the first act in some detail, particularly the chorus which is one of favorite of Shakespeare's passages. I wanted to demonstrate close reading and asking questions of why Shakespeare says certain things that he says. I turned them loose on Acts 2 and 3. In group work, each group was assigned a scene from each act and they were to answer questions of what, why, and wherefore. So each group gave a summary of the scene, examined its connection to the preceding scene, and explained why it was important to the action of the play. I then would ask the group some other questions regarding their scene and they explained their answers to the class. Overall, this went well.

We went through the first scene of Act 4 carefully as a class in moderated discussion. One of the issues that I discussed was the king as two people, yes, taken from Kantorowicz and we talked about this idea as we discussed the discussion between Henry and Williams. We also talked a little bit about Shakespeare's use of mistaken identity in this act and I will bring that back to them later when we encounter this technique in other plays we'll read. This meant also focusing on the scene with Pistol and the French noble, and we contrasted Pistol and Henry on the idea of ransom, and that lead to discussing the roles of Pistol, Bardolf, Nym, and Quickly in this play and how the lawless, masterless (after Falstaff's death) are replaced by Fluellen especially in this act as the influences in Henry's life.

We spent some time comparing Henry in scene I and the Henry of the St Crispin's Day speech and talked a little about that speech. We dwelt slightly on some other speeches in the act.

Act 5 went quickly and we spent time comparing and contrasting scene I and scene II, what we called the wooing of France and the wooing of Katherine.

We spent two days post Henry on wrap up. We distilled the themes, the structure, applied it to what I said about history and the historical context of Shakespeare.

Along the way, I've tried to bring in video and such. Regrettably I'm not in a wired classroom, and the equipment I've checked out from the dept simply doesn't work...or when it did work, it had no sound card. So I've taken to putting up links to video files on the Net on Blackboard and assigning their viewing. This led to our last day of discussion on Henry as performance. We discussed the differences between some of them and how the chorus is presented. We also spent time again working in groups to imagine and present how a scene I assigned to each group would be presented. There were some imaginative answers...such as the Wooing of Katherine in Act 5 being set on a playground with kids not unlike the Disney cartoon from a few years ago, Recess. I thought that was rather amusing. Those kindergartners were vicious!

We're onto Macbeth now. I set up the transition, talked a little about the date of the play, what's changed since Henry was probably written, and for this play I want to take a partial source-critical approach and consider how Shakespeare has changed and adapted his sources. I also talked about a bit of literary criticism Renaissance style and the wheel of fortune, tragedy and comedy, the 3 unities and how Will plays with them, and mash up of genres, and the presentation of evil.

We've begun Act I and I relish the Weird Sisters! So we spent too much time examining the sisters, what they say, why they say it and what's going on with them in the first act. This led to discussing Marlowe and his Faustus and its reception, some of the mythology about Macbeth as a play, and James I's Daemonologie. We also noted the black and white presentation of Macdonwald and Macbeth and I mentioned how this presentation of good and evil will be challenged in the play and that the students should begin to take note of places where that happens as they read.

Again, I will be posted video presentations and this time around we'll focus on some language and poetry issues, as well as more reading aloud and actual performance of scenes rather than thinking about performance of scenes.

So far this has been great fun for me. The problem of course is that it is a new prep and I don't really have the time to develop it as well as I would like to. The non-functioning equipment is frustrating and the inability to get a wired classroom...even when there's a composition class next door that is in a media classroom but the instructor refuses to give it frustrating. Still, we seem to be getting along and we haven't lost that many people so far.

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