Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rethinking Some Basics

I'm doing a panel thing this afternoon, so I've been thinking about what to say and how to contribute well to the panel. What I've been rethinking is the work I've done with the summer Shakespeare productions, and the work I've been doing lately with the NWU Shakespeare production, and, alas, I've come to the conclusion that I've done things all bass-ackwards.

I've been reading up on using theater approaches to teaching Shakespeare. Basically, the articles I've been reading start with a "standard" English lit classroom teaching of Shakespeare and then integrate some aspect of theatrical practice into the teaching, so that students may read aloud, perform short scenes, or perform whole plays in costume. And when I read these, I tend to be stuck on the "standard" thing, because they seem to think that lit classes generally involve an authoritative, professorial figure lecturing to a group of cowed students taking word-for-word notes. On the most basic level, then, the imagined classroom is one I've never experienced except as a TA a few semesters at the R1 where I did my phud, where a professor lectured three hours a week to about 200 students, and then TAs met with students for discussion in smaller groups for an hour a week. Before today, I've tended to get stuck on a basic level of irritation: that's not the way I teach. Nor was it the way my teachers taught 20 years ago, really.

It's felt sort of like the articles have set up a straw professor to knock down. On the other hand, I've seen perhaps five faculty members teach Shakespeare other than myself, so it's hard to say what goes on in classrooms across the world. And, indeed, many of the articles are aimed at high school teachers, and I know even less about what high school teachers do.

But today, I really came to a full stop. I've been looking in all the wrong places because what I'm doing is quite traditional dramaturgy. The starting context to what I've been doing is theatrical; the students have mostly been in other staged plays and are interested in theater as theater. And I walk in and introduce the more literary study of Shakespeare to the situation, get them thinking about verse as verse, and about Shakespeare's language. I ask them to look at stage directions carefully, and to think about early modern material culture. I ask them to break down metaphors and think about how they work, rather than just what they mean (though that's useful, too, of course).

The immediate beneficiaries aren't literature students or English majors, but theater students and majors. And it's valid and useful work, but it's more useful if I reframe how I think about what I'm doing that way, I think. (And, of course, I've been learning lots, but not things that are going to come into my classes in new ways, so much.)

Boy, do I feel stupid. Time to begin again, Finnegan.

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