Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Two to Go

I have this weird professional goal: I want to teach every one of Shakespeare's plays before I retire.  I'm doing a new one right now, and then I'll have two left. (Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens; if anyone thinks of a really good way to fit one or the other in, or says s/he loves teaching one or the other and this is why, I will be a very grateful Shakespeare person.  I could do a class theme of friendship, and then Timon would fit as the anti-model.)

We're about to finish The Two Gentlemen of Verona and move on to AYLI.  (See what I did there?  I'm pretty much on a first name, all initials, basis with AYLI, while the other play I still feel a bit formal about.)

It's not that TGoV (I guess we're friends now) is a bad play, but when I think of teaching AYLI, it's just way better.  It's like TGoV is a sort of flat tryout of some stuff that later gets really cool and important.  You want friendship, TGoV has friendship, but it's not as intense or as challenging as, say, Coriolanus.  It's got cross-dressing, but it's just there to get one character unrecognized into the same outlaws den as another.  In comparison, AYLI, 12th Night, etc, they take cross-dressing and really make you think about metadrama, clothing, gender, all sorts of good stuff.  And then there's rape.  It's a threat, and it's a serious threat, but it's not as complicated as in MfM, Tempest, or All's Well.  And it's got rings, but they're not nearly as cool as in Merchant.  (My students thought I was nuts when I suggested that rings had a sexual connotation.  Grrr.  It's not just my dirty mind, people!  It's Shakespeare!)

And yet, I love teaching Titus, and Titus sort of does the same work for tragedies and especially revenge tragedy as TGoV does for all sorts of other stuff.


  1. That's kind of an awesome goal! (I'm not sure I could do it -- Henry VIII would be a big stumbling block for me, even though the new video version from the Globe half-tempts me to try, because I love it when I can show clips from stage productions. And as you said, it's hard to teach Two Gents when the other comedies do so much more interesting stuff with the same themes. Actually, Two Gents is the only early comedy I haven't taught.)

    FWIW, I haven't taught Troilus myself, but it really blew my mind when I encountered it in my freshman Shakespeare class; somehow the sheer ugliness and messiness of it was a revelation, after reading a lot of tidy and hypercanonical plays in high school. So I think it's definitely worth doing.

  2. We saw Timon in Chicago in May, and it was powerful. They updated it to be about the collapsed economy, and in that light, it was fabulous. I think that it might compare/contrast well with Julius Caesar, too, if you wanted to talk about betrayal and who your real friends are. Also, Ian MacDermid played Timon with a great deal of humorous sarcasm. I think that's worth pulling out, for sure.

    I'll be teaching Two Gentlemen in the spring and focusing on mimetic desire. Rene Girard does a lot with Midsummer and mimetic desire -- the same stuff applies to Two Gents. I love the Sylvia speech, too -- made famous in Shakespeare in Love, of course. Plus, the bit with the dog and the guy's speech about how much it effected him when his master asked him to give the dog to Sylvia... ah... even though I'm no animal lover, that speech kills me. I think there is a lot of potential in Two Gents. Digging for it is harder than in say AYLI.

    I want to teach all of Shakespeare's plays, too. This spring, I'll have two Shakespeare classes. The new texts for me will be Two Gents, Antony & Cleopatra, King John, Richard III. (Two new plays in each class. The first class is the regular Literature class. The other is an honors class on Shakespeare's history plays.) The rest will be repeats. I think this is the first time I'm not teaching Hamlet, though.

  3. What about doing Shakespeare and sources, and then teaching T&C with Chaucer's version? That's how I first encountered it.

  4. Anonymous9:11 PM

    We read Troilus & Cressida in my high school IB World Lit class. I'm still not sure what the pedagogical reasoning was. They just told us that they figured nobody else was doing it.

  5. I've taught T&C in my Chaucer class when we do the dream visions and T&C. I also have them read Boccaccio and Henryson, so we can get a panoply of different treatments of Criseyde especially.