Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Courseblogging: Hey, Victorianists...

How do you keep the energy level of a class from sagging when you teach those long novels? I'm a bit puzzled what to do in the classroom for the next week or so, honestly -- it feels like it takes the students far longer to read a 400-page book than I really have material to fill the class, especially since there's a limit to the number of things we can have a meaningful discussion about when they haven't yet read the entire novel.

We've already had a couple of background-and-historical-context days, and I've tried to have a central theme of sorts for each day's discussion, but I'm already feeling a bit tapped out, and we're only halfway through...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


The drama department at Misnomer U. is gearing up for their first Shakespeare production, or at least the first one within recent memory. I got invited to rehearsal yesterday, to stumble through a very hastily-improvised lecture about staging conditions in Shakespeare's day and answer any questions they had about the text. And my God, did they have questions, mostly about how to parse this phrase or that one (it was like a round of "Stump the English professor," with lines flying at me quickly and out of context. The sentence that finally defeated me and caused me to say something totally wrong was "When thou wakest, let love forbid / Sleep his seat on thy eyelid"). They also wanted to know whether fairies were nocturnal, whether it was appropriate for Oberon to put on a special cloak when he was meant to be invisible, and whether Snout's "By'r lakin, a parlous fear" meant that he was Irish. (I think the answers to those questions are "Sorta," "No," and "Sure, but a Resurrection Stone and an Elder Wand would probably be overkill," not necessarily in that order -- but I cannot swear to it.) I may also have referred to Theseus (the one in Greek mythology, not necessarily Shakespeare) as a "horndog" at one point. They probably won't let me speak without notes again.

I stuck around to watch the rehearsal afterward. I've always been a little in awe of actors (the same way that I'm in awe of, say, bungee jumpers, because I KNOW there's no way I could ever bring myself to do that; but also in the way that I'm in awe of Michelangelo). That awe is not diminished by watching them stumble and forget lines in their first rough run-through. They have to think about all this stuff that I never think about when I'm teaching this play (like, how do you make that four-way free-for-all in the forest both comprehensible and plausibly frenetic, and how do you restrain Hermia long enough for everyone to get their lines out and still make it look dynamic, and where is Oberon in all of this?) And it's a little amazing to think that in a matter of weeks, this will all look very slick and polished and terribly easy.

(They will do it by missing classes, of course. Theater majors always disappear for the week or so before a show, and I've been known to mutter uncharitable things about them; but I'm resolved, this time, to remember that they're doing something important and beautiful.)