Friday, June 18, 2010

Shakespeare III

The two of you who read this may recall that I started way back in January to talk about what I was doing with Shakespeare in my first all Shakespeare course. I'd actually even made a second post on the subject. While the course is now over and some of the course activities are fading from my memory to make room for current and future courses, I'm trying to recall what I all we did and how. I'll be doing "Shakespeare for Teachers" in the Autumn, and to save myself doing 4 new preps, I decided I would simply retool my Spring 2010 Shakespeare course. So I am attempting to review class plans as I prepare the next one. So I return to a Medievalist mucking about in Shakespeare.

My last post in February mentioned that we had started MacBeth, and I discussed going through Act I. After pointing out the features I wanted them to note in Act I, the sisters as Fate, the natural world, the position of MacBeth etc, I set them loose on Acts II and III, once again in groups, each group responsible for studying and presenting a scene in those acts, getting them to pull out what themes and images and characterization they could. For Act IV, we performed some scenes and parts of scenes and I had them write questions based on those scenes for the midterm. For Act V, we returned to class discussion.

Elements to note: I talked about Aristolean definitions of tragedy and comedy current in the day, we discussed analogues with Marlowe's Faustus and the presentation of evil and the devil in both plays. We explored the juxtaposition of fate and free will; we noted the imagery of evil and its result on the land. In fact, I pointed out inversions and warped orders: the natural order is disturbed and the land suffers, the order of gender relationships is changed to detrimental effects, the social order is disturbed as a thane usurps the kingship. I talked about Renaissance notions of Order and how it works.

Among the other issues, I introduced the class to source and psychological criticisms. I am interested in this play how Shakespeare has changed his sources to create a MacBeth utterly different than the MacBeth of history or of Holinshed. Also, I wanted to explore the MacBeths states of mind as we move through the play and introduce them to a psychological reading of the characters. As with other critical approaches, I stuck to a fairly introductory discussion and application with them.

We also could not resist some historicism, and so we talked about the situation in 1609 or and the post-Guy Fawkes rebellion and so on, as well as the necessity to flatter the king, the growth of the Banquo legend and who James I was in relationship to that legend. Last but not least we compared the notions of heroism in Henry V (our first course play) and MacBeth and compared and contrasted the two as mirror images: Henry rises from being an inadequate human being to being an epic king, MacBeth falls from a practically epic hero to being an utter villain. Along the same lines we talked about political theology in the two plays, and Shakespeare's playing with the notion of evil.

By and large the students had a hard time completing this play. The themes, heavy atmosphere, and difficult imagery made for difficult reading.

This brought us to 6 weeks into the semester. The first week was introductory, and we spent 2 1/2 weeks on each play so far. Week 7 was dedicated to the first group presentations and they were to have read The Tempest while we were doing this. There were two presentations assigned: each group was to read a play we were not reading in class. This first presentation was pretty easy: present the play, it's historical setting, the themes and major characters, and the plays place in the canon of Shakespeare's works. Some groups did comedies, some tragedies. Two groups wanted to do Hamlet so I combined them to work on Hamlet...the Hamleteers ended up being quite awesome. But group presentations took two days, a week of the course.

That's the end of week 7. Week 8 was spent on The Tempest. By this point, people are dropping like flies. The problem with teaching at this school and teaching an elective is that people don't stop working to attend school, so often by midterm time I've lost half the class. I'm not alone, so I know it isn't me. Everyone has this problem, though it makes grading post-midterm much easier. Anyway, class attendance was dropping precipitously in part because everyone including me wanted Spring Break and because of the other problem.

So, I did most of the talking. I finished up some things I had wanted to say about MacBeth, then talked about Romance-Comedy combo of genres. I talked about the growth and development of the Romance tradition and the typical motifs, images, and tropes. I then did the same for comedy and we talked about then how these elements are played out in the play. I even told them the story of Yvain to illustrate the beginning of the genre.

We talked again about the disruption of the social order that needs to be put right, contrasted Prospero with the Weird Sisters and MacBeth, talked about notions of liminal space, and the role of forgiveness. We situated the island and noted the relationships of Prospero, Caliban, Ariel, and Miranda. We focused a lot of discussion on the character Caliban and his supposed rape attempt, to fill the island with Calibans, and of course the role of language and civilization in Caliban's life.

We also took on a little post-colonial and feminist criticism.

The Tempest got a bit of short shrift in many ways which is too bad. But onward! Then followed the midterm.

Next time I'll pick up in week 10 of the course and Taming of the Shrew.

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