Summer’s End (with unasked-for advice!)

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 9.31.12 AMYes, the summer is ending, wrapping itself into a great big ball of all you wished to accomplish before the school bells ring and you’re once more on the hallway treadmill. Of course, if you’re luckier than this, and you imagine summer’s end more like the breaking of marathon tape, complete with garland and glory, I take my cap off to you. Me? Right about now, approximately two weeks from the first day, I tend to look back and sigh a bit, usually fairly pleased with some of the work and fun I’ve done and had, but more often wishing I could have a do-over…

No matter, though. Here is some help for you, if, like me, you also look ahead with some degree of hope of improving your, and your students’, classroom life. Though not specifically related to Shakespeare, this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, as you’ll see, does use him as a springboard of sorts when it attempts to get at what, for the author, are the top things one should be aware of while teaching. I like this piece for its honesty and sharing of educational responsibility. Entitled “What I’ve Learned in the Classroom,” this essay by Paula Marantz Cohen of Drexel University lists 10 lessons learned in the course of a 30-year teaching career:

1.  Don’t take things personally.

2.  Be accountable to your students.

3.  Make students accountable for their performance.

4.  Simplify.

5.  Don’t rush—i.e., slow down.

6.  Listen.

7.  Use.

8.  Connect learning to life.

9.  Make form follow function.

10.  Trust your voice and amplify it.

While not necessarily possessing fresh insight, Cohen’s article does have the distinction of articulating clearly and succinctly the essentials,  so it’s a very worthwhile read along the lines of Samuel Johnson’s dictum: “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

Have a happy and successful year, all!

Welcome to Empson or Could you be more vague?

Originally posted on Shakescene:

William Empson (1906-1984)

In 1930, a precocious Cambridge University student by the name of William Empson published his undergraduate thesis, Seven Types of Ambiguity, to wide critical attention. This work has since become a classic of modern literary criticism and was directly responsible, when it moved across the Atlantic, for the emergence of the American New Critical approach to literary criticism. Empson’s contention was that, in order to fully understand the complex structures of the English language and its literature, one must grapple with the idea of ambiguity, not in its pejorative sense (i.e., ‘the deliberate and ill-intentioned muddying of an issue’), but in the sense of “verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternate reactions to the same piece of language.”

What Empson proposed was that we take into careful consideration the ways in which language may perform on different, sometimes seemingly contradictory, levels. As an example…

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The 5 Questions: David Bevington, University of Chicago

Ryan Asmussen:

Our first “5 Questions” interview from last summer: David Bevington from The University of Chicago.

Originally posted on Shakescene:

David Bevington

Professor Emeritus David Bevington
Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus
Department of English
Department of Comparative Literature
University of Chicago

Education: Ph.D., Harvard University, 1959. Teaching at University of Chicago since 1967.

Critical Praise: “David Bevington [is] one of the most learned and devoted of Shakespeareans” — Harold Bloom / “David Bevington’s knowledge of Shakespeare is formidable.” — Barbara Mowat

For more information, click here.

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1.  After your first forays into Shakespeare, what drew you further?

I met a great professor at Harvard, Alfred Harbage, and studied Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama with him in the 1950s. That got me started on serious work on Shakespeare.

2.  Why did you end up falling in love with his language? Are you more enamored of another element of his work?

The language is superb, unparalleled. I learned to appreciate this by listening to good recordings…

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The 5 Questions: Peter Kirwan, University of Nottingham

Peter Kirwan

Peter Kirwan

Dr Peter Kirwan

Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama
School of English
University of Nottingham

1.  After your first forays into Shakespeare, what drew you further?

Shakespeare was unlocked for me during my undergraduate years by my relocation to Warwickshire and the chance to see Shakespeare performed regularly at Stratford-upon-Avon, by the Royal Shakespeare Company and visiting companies. What excited me, and kept me coming back time and again to the plays, was the multiplicity of each text. To see Hamlet reimagined as a commentary on South African apartheid, Othello as a treatise on aging and King Lear as a satire of a globalised economy fired my imagination. The more I watched the plays as well as reading them, the more possibility I saw in each of them for reinvention and application to the times, breaking away from a fixed meaning and instead providing the raw material for theatre practitioners to communicate essential ideas across cultures, languages and ages.

2.  Why did you end up falling in love with his language? Are you more enamored of another element of his work?

The language is significant, but there’s much more to it than the words. Shakespeare is a great poet of silence, for example — I’m fascinated by the spaces between the words that shape how the words are received (Isabella’s famous silence at the end of Measure for Measure is just the most obvious). For me, it’s Shakespeare’s command of three-dimensional stagecraft that draws me back time and again to the plays: the doubling of stage images, the use of horizontal and vertical space, the juxtaposition of characters and positions, and the constant interplay with the theatre itself.

3.  Do you have a favorite play?

This may sound deliberately obscure, but I’ve always loved Henry VI Part Two. It’s rarely performed or read on its own, being the second part of the Henry VI trilogy, but I think it’s one of Shakespeare’s liveliest plays, moving from the political machinations of Henry’s feuding uncles to the wonderfully anarchic riots of Jack Cade, that show the world turned upside down and the play descend into carnival. It also features the emergence of the future Richard III, some potent scenes of witchcraft, and some hugely entertaining comedy.

4.  Do you have a favorite sonnet?

A performer I love, Gavin Friday, gave a version of Sonnet 40 in Stratford in 2006 which has haunted me ever since. The final two lines, ‘Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,/ Kill me with spites yet we must not be foes.’ were sung repeatedly as he left the stage, and created a haunting echo around the theatre. That closing line, ‘Kill me with spites YET we must not be foes’ employs one of Shakespeare’s favourite tricks, the mid-line turn, and carries something deeply painful yet, I like to imagine, hopeful.

5.  What advice would you give to high school and college/university students engaged in the study of Shakespeare? How may they best learn to understand and, ultimately, appreciate his language?

Get thee to a theatre! If you can’t access professional Shakespeare performance, then put it on yourselves — you don’t need money, you just need time and a few copies of the script. Shakespeare was a live poet — he understood the sound and flavour of words, the audible effect that they have. Read every speech again and again, playing with the emphasis and tone. Don’t try to ‘solve’ the lines — there isn’t one key meaning you have to get out of them. Play with the possibilities, the many and varied interpretations of the plays that are available.

Dr Kirwan specialises in the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, both in the early modern period and in later iterations. Particular areas of specialisation include: authorship, collaborative and disputed plays, contemporary performance, book history, screen adaptations and editorial history.

He is Book Reviews Editor for the journal Early Theatre, sits on the advisory boards for Digital Renaissance Editions and Apocrypha Redivivus, and is currently co-leading a project on Shakespeare in the Digital Age with the University of Birmingham.

He teaches broadly across the School’s drama modules and specialises in the areas of early modern literature and drama. Teaching interests include historical plays in performance, stage and screen adaptations, performance theory and the historical contexts of literature.

His main research interests are in the history and reception of early modern drama in print and performance, spanning the late sixteenth century to the present day. As part of the AHRC-funded team working on Collaborative Plays by Shakespeare and Others (PIs: Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen), his work seeks to interrogate easy binaries between canonical and disputed plays and situate the plays of the ‘Shakespeare Apocrypha’ within their historical contexts.

Dr Kirwan also runs The Bardathon, a Shakespeare review blog. Originally set up in 2006 to chronicle the RSC Complete Works Festival, The Bardathon chronicles new productions of early modern plays around the UK, as well as related films, documentaries, books and events. The blog aims to combine the analysis of academic criticism with the quick format of the journalistic review.

A Question for You…

AbMwN.Em.56Happy summer, all! Now that we’re heading into a hopefully restful June, July, and August, sailing away from the stresses of the classroom (I’m ignoring the impending AP Exam scores!), I wanted to take some time to ask you a question…

If you follow this blog, you know its purpose is to aid those of us teaching Shakespeare in AP English Literature and Composition (as well in other English courses, as needs be). We’ve featured interviews with professors, offered up lesson plan ideas and breakdowns of criticism, investigated the art of Shakespearean close reading from a variety of angles, and generally have tried to vary the content while keeping true to the purpose.

Now, I ask you: what would you like to see here on SHAKESCENE? Or, what would you like to see more of, perhaps? I’m taking requests from those of you who have taken the time to follow and read: it’s my way of saying thank you for your patronage.

Also, I’d like to reiterate that I’m always interested in having people write guest posts, so if you have something to say along our lines, please let me know. I can’t afford to pay you anything, but you would certainly be doing the AP English Lit. community a good turn.

Enjoy the warming weather!



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