Approaching the Bard

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Approaching the Bard

Postby The Weary Professor on December 9th, 2011, 9:44 am

Dear Tom,

Any suggestions on making Shakespeare more appealing to today's college students?

I am teaching a freshmen literature class this semester. Out of 21 students, only three managed to get to the end of Othello--even when I gave them the option of watching a performance instead of reading it.

Although characters like Iago are eternal (backstabbing acquaintances are timeless), and I worked hard to establish other points of connection, the language and pacing seem to put them off.
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Re: Approaching the Bard

Postby Tom Baker on December 21st, 2011, 1:44 pm

Dear Prof,

What a task!

I have been asked something similar here but can't remember what I said. I imagine I commiserated with the poor teacher. I remember a dedicated teacher of French telling me that the young men in her class thought that the French accent made them sound like cissies! The poor teacher was in despair.

And so when you are faced with enthusing young people to speak Shakespeare it has to be conceded that ordinary mortals often speak like Gods. And who speaks like a God in modern times? Banality is the modern ticket. And so your task is made difficult. In the early scene in Hamlet, Horatio notices the sun is peeping, it is dawn and Horatio says: "But, look, the dawn in russet mantle clad walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill". And Hamlet and the soldiers are not amazed!

And then Romeo, INSANE with love for Juliet wishes that he was a glove on J's hand that he might touch her cheek. They are human beings who speak fabulous language. It must not be made ordinary just so the actors can feel modern. Love transforms people, so does fear and so does greed and so does fatigue and in great drama the characters are human but their words words are divine. And the divine language elevates the humans. I suppose poetry is elaborate and that may intimidate the students. I have just listened to some very old Shakespeare recordings from 1890-1937. Voices from another time and how quaint they sound, and SO slow.

I am afraid I can only offer sympathy.

Good luck from Tom
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