Friday, November 14, 2008

Courseblogging: random bullets o' catching up

I'm still not dead. Just busy. Did I really intend to write a blog entry for everything we read in the Shakespeare class? Oh well.

-- The Merchant of Venice remains my favorite play to teach, though Titus was threatening to elbow it out of the way for a while. It's just so thorny and knotty, and students always want to argue about it, and the elaborate game of bluffing and entrapment that Antonio and Shylock are playing in 1.3. is so much fun to walk students through. (This is the scene that I used for my teaching demo at Misnomer U. -- it has plenty of drama and tension and gamesmanship to make it immediately compelling, but also lots of subtler language stuff that students don't get until it's pointed out to them, like the significance of the moment when Antonio shifts from "you" to "thou" and the extended wordplay on "kind." And then there are all the broader questions about money and identity and whether Shakespeare means for us to notice that Shylock is a moneylender because Christian Venice has forced the role upon him, or whether he's deliberately erasing that fact. Man, I love that scene.)

-- Conversely, the Henry IV plays are among my favorite bits of Shakespeare to write about, but I don't think I've found my way to a good teaching rhythm yet. We skipped Richard II, which I think was a mistake, and we will not have time to finish off with Merry Wives either. I liked it better in the spring when we read the whole pentalogy, but that takes up half of the semester, and there simply isn't time when you feel obligated to cover tragedy as well. But at least the students in this class really get Falstaff, and think he's hilarious, whereas my students at New SLAC seemed to want to throw him in a river long before Mistress Ford's servants did the job for them.

-- I always feel like I'm tipping my hand too much with the history plays. I do not like Hal. I am aware that I might feel quite differently about Hal if the two major influences on my scholarly life were not Freshman Shakespeare Prof, who has been known to call him a prick, and Graduate Advisor, who is a much gentler and more even-handed sort of person but still a Hal-skeptic. If your first contact with a play is a professor you greatly admire saying, "Hey, get a load of that duck over there!" it's always a wrench to make yourself see a rabbit instead, especially if you are temperamentally inclined toward ducks and don't particularly want to see a rabbit. I keep trying not to tell my students which one to see, but I can't resist pointing out the little hypocrisies, and before I know it, I have pretty much told them what I want them to see. (It doesn't help that I've spent a lot of time pondering small moments in these plays, and I can never help mentioning the results of these ponderings, even though I know objectively that Justice Shallow's servant Davy is not in any way an important character, and it would probably be just as well if I never mentioned him at all.)

-- I look forward to the Obama administration for many reasons, but mostly because it will once again be possible to teach Henry V without anybody comparing the title character to Bush. (N.B.: I have never tried to encourage this comparison. They come to it on their own.)

-- Whoever put Chimes at Midnight up on YouTube in its entirety is AWESOME. I want to marry this person, despite not having a clue about his / her gender.


Anonymous said...

For Bush as Prince Hal:

R said...

mostly because it will once again be possible to teach Henry V without anybody comparing the title character to Bush.

OMG SERIOUSLY. I taught H5 recently for a class that encouraged the students to make connections between Shakespeare and modern stuff, and those papers were *so* not fun. Though at least there was a little variety that semester, because a couple of students also compared him to Prince Harry?

For what it's worth, I've never taught either Henry IV play, but I do point out Henry's hypocrisies in H5, and the students have fought me on it every time. And then write me papers that are, honestly, a little bit fangirly about how awesome Henry is, and how he just wants to be a common man and be loved for who he is...

Fretful Porpentine said...

Oh, wow, r, that sounds painful. Yikes.

R said...

It's even weirder in classes in which the students have had to read _1 Henry IV_ and have had a lecture on it (even if we didn't have a chance to cover it in discussion sections). They've just read a play in which Hal *tells* us he's playing a part, but they're still convinced that we see the "real" Henry in H5--that he's really going to war because he's angry about some tennis balls, for example. I'm never quite sure what to do with that.