Saturday, September 13, 2008

Courseblogging: The Lamentable Tragedy of Friar Laurence and the Nurse

We've finished Romeo and Juliet. I can now breathe a sigh of relief. I think I may need to take some time off from teaching this play, or rather teaching around this play.

The trouble is that everybody's read it, and I don't want to repeat conversations that they've already had in high school, so I end up doing around-the-fringes-of-the-play stuff. Such as watching clips from different film versions and comparing them, or looking at snippets from Arthur Brooke's gloriously awful poem, or giving the students the Q1, Q2, and First Folio versions of a passage and asking them to play textual editor.

Actually, the last activity went terrifically well, and I want to do it again. Indeed, they were all fine activities in themselves. But somehow, doing too much of this stuff seems like a desperate attempt to cover up a big gaping hole where the play was supposed to be. And I don't really have anything very original or insightful to say about this play -- with the possible exception of the passage at 3.5 where the Nurse stands up to Capulet and says, "I speak no treason." (Uppity servants are like gravy to me.) So yeah, we did talk a bit about the family as microcosm of the state, and whether this can be read as a political play, and if so, what the political message might be. That's still kind of talking around the young lovers, though. In a lot of ways, I find the older generation, with all their frailties and failures, more interesting.

I have graded the first batch of papers, except for a few that came in late. They were good for the most part, and one was brilliant -- the first A+ that I've ever given on a paper. I suspect that this says more about the students' prior level of preparation than my teaching, but it was nice, regardless.


Bardiac said...

I hardly ever teach R&J because it's so overdone and badly done in high school. And there are so many other great plays to teach.

But man, it can be frustrating because students think they know the play because they read it in high school, and there's nothing else to say. Except, when you do teach it (only once in a while), it's absolutely beautiful. For me, it just takes time between teachings, and convincing students to look afresh.

Unknown said...

Oh, yes, totally. I love R&J and find it impossible to teach (though I've only done it twice, and once was with a bunch of high schoolers, many of whom hadn't actually read the play yet--though we still had the same problem with everyone feeling like they knew it already. Maybe it's just a cultural problem at this point).

Anyway, I wound up doing the same "teaching the fringes" thing; once I spent a lot of time on sonnets as a way into the play (which worked pretty well, actually), and the other time I spent a lot of time on comparisons to MSND.

Also, the Nurse's standing up to Capulet is great--sounds like you did some interesting things with it. And Juliet's "Amen" toward the end of that scene always breaks my heart.

Anonymous said...

You MUST MUST MUST show clips from the Reduced Shakespeare Company's version of S's plays. The R&J piece is fabulous. And Titus Andronicus as a cooking show? Brilliant!


Fretful Porpentine said...

Ooh, I didn't know the Reduced Shakespeare company had a video! One more thing for my wish list...

Bardiac and r -- Good to know I'm not the only one who struggles with this play.

Anonymous said...

People should read this.