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Thoughts on teaching Shakespeare

 
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In the spirit of Paul's attempt to have some more interesting discussion of arts, literature, etc, I would like to propose the following topic for discussion:

The plays of William Shakespeare should not be taught in a High School (or any other) English Literature class.

This is something that has bothered me for years. Now, in full disclosure, I was a Drama/theatre major in college. I have read MORE than my fair share of scripts. But I suggest they should not BE READ.

Shakespeare wrote plays. The language is beautiful a lot of the time. But here's the thing... A play is not supposed to be READ, it is supposed to be SEEN. Seeing a play is a totally different experience than reading the words on the play.

In my mind, it would be like having a music appreciation class, and handing the students the sheet music for Hanel's "Messiah", or giving an Art History student the printed binary file of a .jpg of "Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo". Unless you have a LOT of practice, it's about impossible to convert what you see printed on the page to actually having the experience.

99% of High school students do not have the ability to do this. Heck, I'd say that 99% of the population at large can't read a play and get the full, true experience of seeing it live.

So, Shakespeare should be banned from English Lit classes, unless you are watching and discussing a performance.

thoughts?
 
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I largely agree. I think you can study the text after (or with, if the language is difficult) a performance, not instead of. Is this something you guys do in the States? In my school experience text and (a video of a) performance went hand in hand.


 
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I'm not certain I would have had any exposure to it in school if it wasn't read in my English class. Which is the real problem. I think it could still have value if only read in class as a tool to show his writing style or for a prelude into historical perspective of the time. Either way a full disclosure is neccessary for the class to understand that it's impossible to give a solid opinion of most plays--let alone 400 year old plays written in an entirely different vernacular--until it's acted out, not to mention acted out well.
 
fred rosenberger
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What I remember from school was that we'd read "Romeo and Juliet", talk about it, have a test or write a paper on it.... THEN watch a movie of it.

Seldom if ever did we go see a live performance. And to me, that's what theatre is about. There is an intimacy and a connection between the audience and the performers.

A few years ago we had tickets to see "The Importance of being Earnest" on a day there was a major snowstorm. The theater holds a few hundred people, but only about 30 showed up, pretty evenly distributed throughout. Before the performance began, the manager asked everyone to move down and sit closer to the stage. It was a really awesome show, since everyone was so connected. I know that if we had stayed spread out, the show would have been very flat, and not good at all...

 
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I think English classes should cover HOW to read Shakespeare before handing out the books. (And yes, watching it before reading is better too.)

The main reason being we got handed a book that has the original text on one side and what words mean on the other. As we read, we constantly were shifting between the pages. Which means we didn't get the rhythm of the actual words.

Thank you Cliff Notes by the way. I read the book and Cliff Notes for a number of books. Just reading the book wasn't enough. I wasn't the type to magically infer that the jacket being blue has reams of meaning. And without that type of thing, English teachers didn't consider the book read.

I must say, I enjoyed the classics I read on my own (1984, Ray Bradbury, Animal Farm, etc) much more than the ones I read in school. Not that I would voluntarily pick up Shakespeare. Which is kind of the point. They certainly didn't teach us to like it.
 
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I totally disagree. Teaching the plays is a critical part of any English speaker's education.

While it was so long ago, I can barely remember anything else from when I was in high school (lets say that Paul was not dead yet), I clearly remember not only reading The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet but I remember that me and a bunch of my friends performed The Merchant of Venice at lunchtime out in the patio. No scenery, no set, no costumes. Just a bunch of goofy teenage boys who memorized the play, performing it for other teenagers.

Readying Shakespeare is no harder than learning l33t speak, or txting spllng

You could try to have them read Huckleberry Finn, but too many school committees vote that its racist and unsuitable.
 
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I'm fascinated with the origin of common phrases, and I think that lots of phrases that are still in use today are thought to have been coined by Shakespeare. For instance "all of a sudden" (can't prove that one), "all that glitters is not gold", "bated breath", "heart on my sleeve", and so on.

I'd be stoked to take a class that studied those!
 
Pat Farrell
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Bert Bates wrote:I'm fascinated with the origin of common phrases, and I think that lots of phrases that are still in use today are thought to have been coined by Shakespeare


Of course, Shakespeare is credited with a huge number of idioms and phrases. He may have stolen some, but his writings contain the first documented usage, so he gets credit.

His plays are filled with amazing wordplay. Puns, jokes, rude language, double entendres, etc. Many of the sexual comments have fallen out of common usage over the last 400 years, so you need the secret decoder ring. For example, in Romeo and Juliet:

ROMEO wrote: Why, then is my pump well flower'd.


 
Bert Bates
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Here are some more:

(And it's not that I didn't realize how quote-worthy he is, it's just that I tend to think that most of his famous lines sound
"Shakespeare-y", the following sound more contemporary to me)

budge an inch
brave new world
cruel to be kind
eye of newt and toe of frog
fair play
for goodness' sake
foregone conclusion
full circle
good riddance
eaten me out of house and home
mind's eye
knock knock, who's there?
too much of a good thing
wild goose chase
what's done is done
what the dickens?
a tower of strength
 
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I like to read a book/play before watching it

reading inspires my imagination when Some one says Romeo and Juliet(I have never seen the play or movie) I have a vivid description created by my own imagination

but in case of Harry Potter , when ever I think of him the only image that comes to my mind is that of Daniel Radcliffe, the images of the wild creatures like Dementours are imprinted on my mind leaving little room for any imagination(I saw the movie before reading the book)
 
Pat Farrell
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Arun Kumar wrote:Romeo and Juliet(I have never seen the play or movie) I have a vivid description created by my own imagination


You should see a play, its staged all the time. For a movie version, the 1968 version is much better (IMHO) than the 1996 version. Plus Juliet in 68 was a fox.
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Arun Kumar wrote:but in case of Harry Potter , when ever I think of him the only image that comes to my mind is that of Daniel Radcliffe, the images of the wild creatures like Dementours are imprinted on my mind leaving little room for any imagination(I saw the movie before reading the book)


I read Harry Potter first. For contemporary books, I definitely try to read the book first to form my mental image. It's just so much harder to read Shakespeare.

Another aspect that I think is relevant here is that Harry Potter (and most current movies that have books) is that they were written as novels. Shakespeare wrote them as plays. He meant for them to be seen as plays. JK Rowling didn't mean for Harry Potter to be a movie. I'm sure she is thrilled, but the original was meant to be a novel.
 
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I think it's kind of useless to see a Shakespeare play without having first studied it. What good is sitting through a play that is in a foreign language?

The proper way to teach it is to begin with a linear translation -- that is, a book that translates one phrase at a time. In this way, students will gradually develop the ability to read and translate Elizabethan English. When they've mastered the language of the play in question, then they're ready to see the play.

Of course, someone who has already mastered Elizabethan English can go straight to the play. But now you're no longer talking about high school students.

Yes, it's a shame that Shakespeare's language is foreign to us. This sort of loss is the reason I find writers who delight in unnecessarily introducing changes to our language (e.g. by verbing nouns and nouning verbs) to be highly obnoxious. They're just increasing the pace of heritage loss to future generations.
 
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WoW... I thought you were going to talk about this not the real deal.

*wanders off*
 
fred rosenberger
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ok... my broader point really has nothing to do with specifically Shakespeare, but with plays in general. It just so happens that the most commonly read plays are his.

If you were going to teach someone about classical music, would you really hand them sheet music? Would you spend days or weeks or months talking about how F# minor is really the saddest of all keys, and why? Would you spend hours debating why 3/4 time is superior to 6/8 time?

or would you just PLAY THE FRAKIN' piece? Would you play maybe one movement, then discuss it?

How many of us have taken a film studies class? Did you read the scripts, or did you watch the movie?

I think the same thing should be done for plays. Watch a scene, discuss it, re-watch it, discuss some more.
 
Frank Silbermann
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fred rosenberger wrote:ok... my broader point really has nothing to do with specifically Shakespeare, but with plays in general. It just so happens that the most commonly read plays are his.

If you were going to teach someone about classical music, would you really hand them sheet music? Would you spend days or weeks or months talking about how F# minor is really the saddest of all keys, and why? Would you spend hours debating why 3/4 time is superior to 6/8 time?

or would you just PLAY THE FRAKIN' piece? Would you play maybe one movement, then discuss it?

How many of us have taken a film studies class? Did you read the scripts, or did you watch the movie?

I think the same thing should be done for plays. Watch a scene, discuss it, re-watch it, discuss some more.

College courses in film or music appreciation are basically for student entertainment. That's why they don't lead to job qualifications.

In a serious film school, you would have students read the scripts. If you were learning music composition at the Juliard School of Music in NYC, I think they'd hand out the sheet music scores.

Reading plays, rather than viewing them, is a relic of the days when _high_ school was viewed as "higher" education. The assumption was that the students already knew how to be entertained, and were now trying to learn to think like a playwright.
 
Pat Farrell
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Frank Silbermann wrote:I think it's kind of useless to see a Shakespeare play without having first studied it. What good is sitting through a play that is in a foreign language?


I don't agree with this view at all. Sure, its a fairly foreign language. Kinda like watching a BBC mystery show, as an American, I can't hear through the accents, and don' t know the idioms. But if you just listen, pay attention, you'll get it.

A Dummy's Guide to Shakespeare mostly misses the point.
YMMV...
 
Brian Legg
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I watch foreign language shows/movies all the time.... if the acting is good then you will get the concepts and feel of the piece despite loosing a lot of dialog.

My 2 cents
 
Pat Farrell
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http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/chi-talk-shakespeare-0420apr20,0,24336.story
On Monday, Mayor Richard Daley is to announce that Thursday, William Shakespeare's 445th birthday, is to be "Talk Like Shakespeare Day," an occasion for Chicagoans to import the spoken words of the Bard of Avon into their everyday conversations.

Because today is April 20 rather than April 1, we'll assume the mayoral proclamation is both legit and sincerely made. Soft! On Thursday, verily, haply we'll hear Shakespearean language in all kinds of Chicago settings. Alack! Prithee! Mark me well!

At City Hall, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) to Ald. Richard Mell (33rd): "Foolery, sir, doth walk about the orb like the sun. It shines everywhere."

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in impromptu statement outside home: "Thieves for their robbery have authority, when judges steal themselves."
U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald (when told): "Foul devil, for God's sake hence, and trouble us not;

"For thou hast made the happy earth thy hell, Fill'd it with cursing cries and deep exclaims."

At O'Hare, Terminal 1 announcement: "Any unattended baggage will be picked up by the Chicago police department. And remember, journeys end in lovers' meetings. Every wise man's son doth know."
 
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fred rosenberger wrote:

In my mind, it would be like having a music appreciation class, and handing the students the sheet music for Hanel's "Messiah", or giving an Art History student the printed binary file of a .jpg of "Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo". Unless you have a LOT of practice, it's about impossible to convert what you see printed on the page to actually having the experience.

99% of High school students do not have the ability to do this. Heck, I'd say that 99% of the population at large can't read a play and get the full, true experience of seeing it live.

So, Shakespeare should be banned from English Lit classes, unless you are watching and discussing a performance.

thoughts?



I think I have to disagree with the 99% of people not being able to read a play and get the full experience. I would argue that NO ONE is capable of reading a play and getting the full experience. I spent a big part of my life before the real world in theatre, both performing and tech (worked for a professional theatre as a stagehand in college) and even the most experienced theatre person would never get the full experience of a play from reading it. Actually, I would say just seeing one performance of a play doesn't even give the full experience. Case in point, I've seen Godspell 3 times. First time it was designed to be the time of Jesus. The second time was an early 80's feel, and the third time was late 90's hard rock. All three shows were amazing, but all three were very individual takes on the same musical.
 
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I think that one gets far more out of watching the play acted WELL.

If your first experience is with poorly performed shakespeare, that can throw you off your feed even more.

But when done well ..... really well ... then it is a true pleasure.

 
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