Thursday, July 23, 2015

On Shakespeare

Last year, back when I gave teaching to the text (hah! puns) a shot, I noted that I had developed strong feelings about teaching Shakespeare. Well, you know, so has just about every English teacher in America, I think.

The basis of my feelings are this:

1. The language of Shakespeare is outdated and almost as difficult for students today to navigate as Old English.
2. Yes, the themes and motifs Shakespeare presents are still prevalent in modern times, but other texts (ones where students aren't distracted by what is essentially a foreign language) present them better.

Dana Dusbiber puts it eloquently in her editorial reprinted by the Washington Post.

It seems that Dusbiber and I, however, may be in the minority, at least of those who have vocalized their opinions. Most of what I see online are die-hard Bard fans who criticize anyone who would even think of skipping over that portion of English lit.

They do have make some good points, though. Here are some examples, onetwo, three, and four from the Folger Shakespeare Library's blog, another from that same writer's personal blog, and one from a blog titled Talk Like Shakespeare. Okay, so maybe that's not the most unbiased of resources. Here's one in response to Dusbiber's editorial, and here's one from an author of what appears to be trashy novels from that one time he was on the school board. Neither of those are as eloquently written, but they still have their merits.

The only point that matters to me at the moment, though, is that Shakespeare is, indeed, mentioned in CCSS. So yes, I should teach the things I'm passionate about because the students can pick up on my passion, but I also need to include Shakespeare. It fits into the Classic Lit curriculum well, anyway, and I can teach it in my own way.

Just because the language aspect is difficult doesn't mean we need to shy away from it, I know. We do difficult things because they're difficult, after all. It's just something that needs to be taken into consideration. It should be, "When we study Shakespeare, we're studying a foreign language. Already knowing modern English, this language is pretty easy to pick up, like Spanish, but we need to think of it as a foreign language because people we live with wouldn't understand us if we started speaking like this."

With that as an introduction to set the mood, here are some other things I need to keep in mind to do:

-First, we DON'T need to read the entirety of the play together, like I tried to force last year. We also don't need to act the entire thing out, which I feel a little compelled to try. Those things aren't me. They aren't they way I teach, and they will never come off as genuine. Instead, I can select short but important passages to focus on. We can dissect them, which will be a little tricky but still good for us. We can translate them into our own words.
-We can even practice performing them, just those small little sections.
-This "Living Iambic Pentameter" activity looks fun.
-We can even trade Shakespearean insults.
-Remember to use the Folger Library as a resource.
-And maybe some of this "Teaching Romeo and Juliet" stuff?
-Some Youtube videos about Elizabethan theaterthe Globe, and pronunciation that makes more sense.

I got this. No big deal.