Thursday, January 30, 2014

For Wednesday (Rescheduled): The Jew in Elizabethan England and The Merchant of Venice

For Wednesday's class, there is no reading: instead, Dr. Nicholson-Weir, Assistant Professor of English, will be joining us to discuss the Jew in Elizabethan England, particularly as portrayed on stage in Shakespeare and Marlowe's plays.  This is a preface to our reading of the play, as is yet another film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice--the 2004 version by Michael Radford, starring Al Pacino as Shylock.  This version is on You Tube (see below) and I want you to watch this version prior to FRIDAYS's class, when we will discuss it.  You can either watch it on your own OR come to a communal viewing in HM 348 on Tuesday @ 12:30 (but if this is problematic, I can also show it on Thursday @ 12:30).  Also, be prepared...Paper #1 is right around the corner and will be handed out next week!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

For Friday: Critical Essays on As You Like It (as found in the back of the Norton edition)

For Friday's class, read ONE of the following essays in the back of our Norton edition of As You Like It, and respond to TWO of the questions that follow.  This will form the basis of our discussion on Friday. 

The essays--read at least ONE of the following:
Anne Barton, "As You Like It: Shakespeare's 'Sense of an Ending'" (246), Jean E. Howard, "Crossdressing, the Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England" (337), James Shapiro, "The Play in 1599" (361).

The Questions (answer TWO):
1. What "problem" is the author responding to in the play?  That is, how is his/her essay trying to address a specific issue that needs to be resolved in staging As You Like It that would help modern audiences "get" Shakespeare's intention?  What makes this issue so problematic?

2. Do you think this essay offers a more historical or a theoretical approach to Shakespeare?  In other words, do you feel that the author offers a more "back to the text" approach in understanding how to reach Shakespeare's intentions, or is the author trying to use modern theoretical approaches/influences to "resurrect" the play?  What makes you think this, and how successful do you feel this approach is?  Be specific. 

3. Do you feel like the essay would agree with Branagh's interpretation of As You Like It?  Could we imagine that Branagh had read this essay before filming his version--does the essay illuminate his version in particular?  Or conversely, do you think Branagh should have read this essay before film his version?  What might have changed or been improved?  Or, perhaps, what advice did Branagh wisely ignore?  Again, be specific and point to examples in the essay and film. 

4. How does the essay help you understand or appreciate As You Like It in a new light?  What ideas does the essay reveal that you either didn't consider before, or didn't 'see' from this perspective?  Be specific and reference a particular scene, moment, or character that connects to ideas in the essay. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

For Wednesday: Act V of As You Like It

Answer TWO of the following...

1. The final act is peppered with scenes and moments that are often cut or condensed in modern productions: notably Act 5, Scenes 1 and 3, Touchstone’s long ramble about retorts, reproofs, and replies, and the speech of Hymen (both in 5.4).  Focusing on one or more of these, why are these moments in the play and yet seen as so superfluous to the true story?  If kept, what might they add? 

2. Rosalind is given the last word in the play—a witty speech in prose, not verse.  What do you feel is the purpose of the Epilogue, and why is it important to see/hear Rosalind after the happy ending of Act 5? Is the Epilogue another bit of acting on her part...or is this the true, unmasked Rosalind?  Also, is this Shakespeare speaking to us directly, through his character? 

3. Jacques is notably quiet in the final act, though he emerges in the final scene and is given the next-to-last lines in the play (save the Epilogue).  Discuss the manner of his exit and the strange ‘benediction’ he offers all the characters before he goes.  How are we meant to read this?  Is it another comment on the play itself from the mouth of Shakespeare?  Or the misanthropic musings of a fool? 

4. How satisfying is the ending of the play, with its quick-fire marriages and deus ex machina in the guise of Jaques de Bois, who restores the duke’s power?  It is a very short scene, and can be read as relatively rushed and cursory—and indeed, Rosalind barely speaks after her opening lines.  Is it supposed to be unsatisfying/satiric?  Is this a flippant attempt to give us a play “as we like it”?  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Group Presentation Plays

NOTE: Be sure to view the previous post for Act 3 & 4 questions!  

For your Group Presentation, due toward the end of the semester, you will collaboratively read a 5th Shakespeare play and watch a modern adaptation/translation (post 1980’s).  I will give you more information on the presentation itself soon, but for now, give me your TOP 3 choices based on the plays below.  I will place you into groups of 3 based on your top (or 2nd) choices if possible.  Please stick to the plays below, since I have special adaptations earmarked for each one that will be easy for you to access at no additional cost.  However, you are free to find other versions if you wish. 

The Plays:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Titus Andronicus
Much Ado About Nothing
Romeo and Juliet
Henry V
The Taming of the Shrew

For a brief synopsis of each play, click here:  Note that our library has copies (often in more than one edition) so you don’t have to buy the work in question.  Many are also free on-line, or in Amazon’s Kindle store.  

For Monday: As You Like It, Acts 3-4

Check out a 2013 Royal Shakespeare production of As You Like It (Act 3, Scene 2) that takes a much more modern/global approach:

Answer TWO of the following as a comment below:

1. Read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 (or re-read it—this site has the poem and some nice commentary/historical examples):  How is the discussion of love between many characters in Acts 3 and 4 similar to the main idea/satire in this sonnet?  What conventions is he mocking and what qualities is he trying to affirm?  Unlike Jacques, I don’t think Shakespeare is trying to satirize love itself, but rather, how we make love—at least in poetry and on-stage. 

2. Touchstone and Jacques are both the ‘fools’ of the play, and are something of mirror images.  What ideas, dialogue, or general approach do they have in common?  Consider how they interact with Rosalind, in particular.  Likewise, what makes them distinct, and possibly commentaries on one another?  How can we understand one character through the ‘frame’ of the other?  (Think about their names, too!) 

3. Note when iambic pentameter comes into play in these acts: why is it used in these situations and what effect should we see/hear when it is spoken?  How might verse ironically become a comic device in As You Like It?  (Also, see if you can find the scene in verse where, on a dime, a character suddenly resumes speaking in prose—why is this?). 

4. As Acts 3 and 4 demonstrate, As You Like It is Rosalind’s play, as she has no real male rival.  From a ‘global’ standpoint, does this make the play a feminist play—that is, one that offers a more fluid definition of female identity?  Is her control of the play a way of satirizing men and male constructions of power?  Or should we take into account that to do this, she must act as a man—and be played by a man?  How modern is this play, really—and how much is simply a comedy (since a woman could never do this in Shakespeare’s time)?  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

For Friday: Questions for As You Like It, Acts I and II

Close Reading Questions for As You Like It, Acts I and II

Answer TWO of the following in a short paragraph each (a few sentences).  Be as specific as possible and quote the play whenever possible.  The goal of these questions it to help you think through the play and see connections you can discuss in class and write about later.  You don’t need answers as much as observations, and feel free to ask questions within your answers—I don’t expect anyone to ‘get it’ on a first read (if indeed we ever get Shakespeare!).  You will get full credit for these questions as long as you offer thoughtful, engaged responses that reply to the text—don’t just give me vague, restating-the-question type responses.  I’ll ask you to try again! 

QUESTIONS (answer any TWO)

In As You Like It, few of the main characters speak much blank verse, opting instead for prose.  Note how often Rosalind and Celia speak prose to one another, though both are extremely witty, learned members of the court.  Why do you think Shakespeare did this?  What does prose allow us to see/hear that might be important for their subject matter, characters, or relationship?  Focus on a specific scene that you can examine in this light. 

2. Discuss the character of Jacques: what is he doing in this play?  He seems quite at odds with most of the other characters, and though he occasionally adds to the comedy, he seems quite unwilling to do so.  Nevertheless, he has one of the most famous speeches in the play, the “All the world’s a stage” speech (II.7).  How does he complicate what might be a very simple, conventional play, and what do we learn from him?

3. So much of Shakespeare’s humor in this play is based on elaborate puns, at times obscure without the aid of footnotes.  Focus on a specific ‘comic’ scene (a few lines) and discuss how an actor might make this ‘speak’ without the use of footnotes.  In other words, how do you translate this for an audience so that we get/hear the puns that we might otherwise miss (or be confused by) when reading?

4. Acts I and II could almost be out of a tragedy since multiple people are banished, assassinations are attempted, and lovers are parted.  What clues do we have in this play that we are in the world of a “comedy”?  How does Shakespeare seem to differentiate a comedy from a tragedy?  Are we not supposed to take these events seriously (the same things happen in his tragedies, notably King Lear, for example)?  Do the characters behave more comically?  Or is there no real way to tell where we’re headed at the end of Act II?  You might also consider Samuel Johnson’s observation that “Shakespeare’s plays are not in the rigorous and critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind: exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of combination.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

For Friday/Tuesday/Wednesday

Remember to read Marowitz's chapter, "Seven American Misconceptions" for Friday's class.  I gave you no questions for this chapter, but please read it all the same, since it is an intriguing look from one director about what Shakespeare should--could--and should not be.  As he writes in the Preface of the book the chapter comes from Recycling Shakespeare (1991), "The assumption behind the book is that 'Shakespeare' is matter and matter can be reduced, expanded, transformed or reconstituted.  To those who believe that a 'classic' is an entity fixed in time and bounded by text, this may be a rough ride."  You might not agree with his ideas or approach, but the chapter is a useful way to start thinking about the global applications of Shakespeare's drama.

For next Tuesday, I want to screen Branagh's 2006 version of As You Like It outside of class.  It would take up 2 entire class periods otherwise, and I want to get to reading the play as soon as possible.  The two times are Tuesday @ 12:30 in the Tiger Cinema (upstairs in the UC, on the opposite side of the workout facility) and @ 6:00 in our normal classroom.  Please try to attend one of these showings, since we will discuss the film on Wednesday and it may form part of your first paper assignment.  You can also rent the film from Netflix (not available in streaming, however) or check Hasting's.  If you do this, please be sure to get the Branagh version--not some other random version of the play.  I want us all to watch the same one, and more importantly, this one. 

See you on Friday!

Monday, January 13, 2014

From Monday's class: the English lesson from Henry V

Just for fun, and for those who missed class, I posted a link to the two videos we watched in class, both performances of the English lesson from Henry V.  My point in showing this is to stress what makes Shakespeare both literary and theatrical: this scene is hilarious when performed, since the actors can make us forget that it's in French--we get the point immediately--but when read, we get the clever French/English pun at the end, which underlines the problems inherent in translation itself (that some things just don't translate).  For Wednesday, we'll discuss the history of translating Shakespeare in performance, from his own age to the Victorian period.  Bottom line, there have always been many 'Shakespeares,' and the idea of being authentic is very difficult to authenticate (and authenticity wasn't a watch word of Shakespeare's theatre to begin with!). 

[Above: from Branagh's Henry V (1989)

I can't get the second one to pull up correctly, but here's the link (it's shorter and even funnier):

Friday, January 10, 2014

Welcome to the Course

Welcome to the, not the theatre Shakespeare’s company performed so many of his plays in, but our globe, which has become the true ‘stage’ of Shakespeare’s art.  No playwright is more performed throughout the world than Shakespeare, and not just in English; his works have been translated into almost every literary language on earth, adapted into thousands of films (again, in every conceivable language) and have inspired countless books, poems, and plays.  So who is this new, global Shakepseare?  What relationship does ‘he’ have with the man who lived in the late 16th/early 17th century and wrote for Queen Elizabeth and King James?  Perhaps more importantly, what can a man who wrote for boy actors in a highly poetic language dripping with classical allusion have to say to our world—a world far removed from the Anglocentric world of Shakespeare’s England?  Should we still read Shakespeare when the world offers us so many languages, traditions, and literatures to choose from?  Why stick with him? 

This class serves as an introduction to the idea of Shakespeare as a modern/global author, who is no longer fixed in his historical space (though we can learn much from that space).  Shakespeare is now a more fluid entity, able to survive the perils of linguistic and cultural adaptation to express the same profound, and (dare I say) universal ideas throughout the world.  There has never been one “Shakespeare,” and today there are thousands; in this class we will examine a few of them, both the historical and the contemporary Shakespeares that create a truly “global” author. 

This is definitely one of my “bucket list” classes to teach, and after 13 years of teaching, I’m finally ready to tackle it.  There’s a lot of ground to cover in this class, and I don’t expect you to have any background knowledge of Shakespeare coming in; however, by the time you leave, I hope you’ll have a deeper appreciation for Shakespeare’s art, as well as the power of drama to express universal and specific manifestations of culture.  This class will be particularly useful for teacher-certification majors, since you will have new ideas and approaches to the familiar plays that everyone thinks they know—but will never see like this.  I look forward to our many discussions together!