So, in two days' time, I will be teaching my first Shakespeare course. For some reason, this makes me feel like I have officially Arrived as a faculty member, even though I have been teaching Shakespeare in survey courses since 2003. Actually, I felt the same way when I registered for my first semester of college as a bitty little freshporpentine and discovered that I could sign up for an English class that was all Shakespeare, all the time. It sounded like magic.
And it was like magic. It was also completely insane, although I didn't realize this until about twelve years after the fact, when I thought, "Hey, wait a minute, what kind of professor puts Titus Andronicus and Troilus and Cressida and Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew all on the reading list for a freshman class? What in the world was he thinking?" We did read some conventional Shakespeare too -- Much Ado, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth -- but it was the weird and challenging stuff that made the biggest impression on me. It made some sort of impression on my fellow students, as well, as evinced by some of the conversations before class:
"So, I just can't figure out what happened in this play. I mean, I got that this guy meets this girl during the Trojan War, and they got married, but then she left him --"
"Wait a minute. Where does it say they got married?"
"Well ... they had sex, didn't they?"
"Believe it or not, that was known to happen back then."
"But this is Shakespeare!"
Ah, the fun of state colleges in the South. I'm pretty sure our professor intended to slaughter sacred cows right and left when he compiled that syllabus, because he likes doing that with those kinds of cows, but that didn't occur to me at the time. All I knew was that this was the first time that anybody had suggested to me that maybe Shakespeare didn't believe in the Divine Right of Kings or the Great Chain of Being, and it was liberating.
I wonder if I'll ever be able to pull off that sort of teaching. Probably not in exactly the same way; I tend to think of it as the old-white-guy-with-a-beard style of teaching, where you can wander in five minutes late, looking as if you had suddenly taken it into your head to teach a class that day, ramble a bit about current events or the books you bought over the weekend, and have it suddenly build to a complex and provocative point. It takes a certain classroom persona, and more importantly, scattered thoughts that are actually interesting; it doesn't always work, even for the old white guys with beards, but I loved it when my undergrad profs could pull it off.
I wonder how this class will go. I probably shouldn't be thinking about my own Shakespeare classes right now at all (two undergrad, two grad, all with very different and very fabulous professors), because it makes me aware of how many shoes there are in the world that I can't possibly fill. But I like remembering the rush of excitement I got in all of those classes, and as scary as Monday is, I'm excited now.