Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shakespeare Camping

I'm a little dissatisfied with the way my teaching is going at the Shakespeare camp. It's not that I'm doing a bad job, but the way the camp is organized this year focused a lot on stage combat and less on the playtext. Even I recognize that if you're going to do stage combat, you have to do it safely, and doing it safely takes time and effort. But that time isn't spent doing other things.

So I met with the students as a group twice, and yesterday met with individual students who wanted to ask question and such. Talking with one of the young actors was a blast; he's clearly thinking about the play in interesting ways, trying to understand the contexts and acting and putting things together. But most of the others had really simplistic questions about word meaning. It's vital to know what words mean, and I'm happy to answer those questions, but I don't think individuals asking word questions one at a time, alone, really helps people put things together for the play as a whole.

And the actor who most needs to work on his stuff doesn't really see that he needs help, and so isn't responsive to offers. There's a point in life where you realize that if you practice something as if it's real, focusing and paying close attention, then you get it a lot faster and better. This student hasn't gotten to that point, and I don't think my telling him convinced him. (I don't know how one learns some things; I can't remember learning that one.)

But the one questioning actor got me thinking, so tomorrow I'm supposed to work with the group, and I think I'll take in a couple show and tell things and get students thinking about them. First, I'm going to give them Simon Forman's diary entry on seeing Macbeth, and try to get them to think about what Forman thinks is important and not, what he remembers/sees or doesn't see that we may or may not see. (Like Duncan creating Macbeth Prince of Cumberland, rather than Malcolm.)

Then we're going to look at a bit of the 1577 edition of Holinshed, especially at the woodcut of Macbeth, Banquo, and the witches. (Shakespeare may never have seen the 1577 edition, but the woodcut is still interesting. He worked with the 1587 edition extensively, but it doesn't have that illustration--or many at all as I recall.) The woodcut is fun not only for the witches, but because Macbeth and Banquo SO do not look like 11th century warrior guys, but like court fops from the late 16th century. And the scary heath looks like a parkland or something. The woodcut's representation is neat because it gets you thinking about what counts as history and how history gets represented, especially on stage.


  1. that's great about your inquisitive actor! and i think that other actors who are just asking about word meanings are learning to reach out -- they may be too shy or just not yet understand enough to ask deeper questions, but please don't assume they are not absorbing a lot. [except the student who is resistant; he is no doubt hearing from other sources that it is not all about him.]

    your plans for the next session sound great! visuals are always good, and can help spark thinking about the play in different ways. so, too, is a centuries-old review -- this play has a long and rich history, and they are becoming part of it.

  2. Thanks :) The session went well, and I do think most students are getting lots out of the whole experience.