Thursday, February 27, 2014

For Friday: King Lear, Act 1

NOTE: I decided to change our emphasis from reading/discussing Acts 1-2 to simply reading Act 1, since so much happens.  We'll pick up 2-3 for Monday to give you a little extra time, since there's so much to digest in this play, even after reading the graphic novel version.

Answer TWO of the following as a comment below:

1. What obvious or significant changes do you notice between the graphic novel's 'Act 1' and the play's Act 1? Consider passages/lines that are dropped, or other language that the play emphasizes that the novel did not. What makes the textual experience so different?  Or do you feel, in general, it was an effective translation?  

2. As always, note when blank verse becomes prose in this play.  Who speaks prose and when?  Why might it be a significant change for us to see/hear?  Also consider that the graphic novel can't really capture this shift of language, which could seriously change what we understand (or are meant to understand) in the play.

3. In Act 1, Scene 1, Regan notes that Lear "hath ever but slenderly known himself" (13).  Based on this reading, how might Lear's madness stem less from age or illness than a simple lack of identity?  How is his identity challenged in the first act, and how does he respond to these challenges?  What does he think "he" is?  Why do others disagree?

4. Much of Act 1 seems to be about the stagecraft of society: that is, the "ceremony" of functioning in society, and how little room we have to improvise our own lines.  This is a lifelong concern for Shakespeare, seen notably in Sonnet 23, when he writes

So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharged with burden of mine own love's might.

How might this Sonnet echo other lines/passages in the play and help us understand why his (apparently) most loyal subjects refuse to obey his will?  Conversely, what might it mean to be too eager to play one's part, even for the 'right' reasons?  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

For Monday/Wednesday: Manga Shakespeare's King Lear

On Friday, I discussed why teaching Shakespeare through the medium of graphic novels/comics might be an effective way of 'staging' it for students new to Shakespeare, or even to anyone reluctant to read a Shakespearean play.  Remember that comics are not a genre of literature (like science fiction, horror, or romance) but a form of literature (like novels, plays, poems, etc.).  This means that they are simply a way of telling a story with their own unique conventions, grammar, and symbols--some of which are uniquely qualified (perhaps more than a normal book) to translate Shakespeare's theatre to the page.  

For most of next week, we'll read The Manga Shakespeare: King Lear as an example of a truly 'Global Shakespeare.'  This work combines the comic book format with the Japanese manga style with a setting completely removed from Shakespeare's original--18th century America before the Revolutionary War (reminiscent of James Fennimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales--The Last of the Mohicans, The Pioneers, etc.).  

By Wednesday, I want you to post ONE comment answering the following question below:

Close read a specific passage that you feel effectively translates Shakespeare from the flat page to the graphic novel format.  How does this passage help us 'see' the characters, the staging, the ideas, the symbolism, or the language in a way that we might miss (or a younger student might miss) simply reading it on the page?  Consider also the word + image relationships (we'll talk a lot about this on Monday) and how it helps tell the story on the 'stage' of a comic book.  When discussing your passage, be sure to describe the images as well as the words so that we can understand how you're reading the comic as a whole.  Remember that images are not primarily illustrations but a means of storytelling in their own right; there are always 2 stories going on in a comic--the story of the images and the story of the words.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

For Wednesday: Critical Readings of The Merchant of Venice

For Wednesday's class, read AT LEAST ONE of the following essays in the back of our Norton edition of The Merchant of Venice, 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:
  • Cohen, “Shylock and the Idea of the Jew” (193)
  • Shapiro, “Circumcision and the Pound of Flesh” (226)
  • Sinfield, “How to Read The Merchant of Venice Without Being Heterosexist” (270)
  • Desai, “Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: Whose Mislike?  Portia’s?  Shakespeare’s?  Or That of His Age?” (304)

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 The Merchant of Venice 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 Radford's (or Pacino’s) interpretation of The Merchant of Venice/Shylock?  Could we imagine that Radford had read this essay before filming his version--does the essay illuminate his version in particular?  Or conversely, do you think Radford should have read this essay before film his version?  What might have changed or been improved?  Or, perhaps, what advice did Radford wisely ignore?  Again, be specific and point to examples in the essay and film.  

4. How does the essay help you understand or appreciate The Merchant of Venice 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. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

For Friday: The Merchant of Venice, Acts 4 & 5

[Above: one of my favorite actors, F. Murray Abraham's Shylock (Salieri in Amadeus) during the famous trial scene, Act 4.1.  Read an interview with Abraham about performing Shylock in the 21st century: 

Answer TWO of the following...

1. Discuss the humor in Act 4, Scene 1: though a tense, nail-biting scene, it is shot through with curious bits of humor and satire.  What should be played for laughs?  Do the laughs threaten to derail the tragedy (if it is tragic)?  Who are we laughing at—or with?  And what kind of humor is it? 

2. In the showdown between Shylock and Portia, she tells him, “Though justice be thy plea, consider this--/That in the course of justice none of us/Should see salvation” (59).  What does she mean by this, and how might this change how we read the entire scene—and indeed, much of the play itself?  Does this statement condemn or somewhat exonerate Shylock? 

3. Is Antonio redeemed in Act 4.1?  For many he becomes pitiable, and I doubt few audiences want to see him skewered (well, maybe a few...).  Is he changed by the end of the play?  Does he grant Shylock mercy?  Does he repent in some manner for his crimes?  Or does he glare triumphantly over Shylock’s spoiled corpse? 

4. Act 5, Scene 1 is a strange scene, as it focuses on the power of music and its connection to love.  Lorenzo claims that “The man that hath no music in himself...Is fit for treasons, strategems, and spoils” (69), while Portia remarks that music “sounds much sweeter than by day...How many things by season seasoned are/To their right praise and true perfection!” (69).  What do you make of all this?  How is music being used/discussed here, and how might it reflect on the actions of the play—or the enchanted world of Belmont? 

5. Is the resolution of the ring trick a satisfying way to end this play?  In other words, after what happened in Act 4, The Merchant of Venice seems to end as a farce—“I slept with the doctor, tee-hee!” Why do you think Shakespeare wanted this ending?  How does it end the play, and is it really as light and comic as many productions have staged it? 

Short Paper #1 assignment

Short Paper #1: All the Men and Women Players

For your first paper, I want you to examine ONE of Shakespeare’s characters (from the two comedies) from a ‘global’ perspective.  That is, what makes this character universal in some sense, able to translate from late 16th/early 17th century England into playhouses from England to America and beyond?  Where do we see this character in a ‘modern’ light, or in a way that translates easily to a modern context?  In the same sense, how might this character lend themselves to modern ideas—feminism, existentialism, modernism, etc.—even if this wasn’t exactly what Shakespeare intended?  If we were adapting this play into a modern production, which character gives us the best “in” to our 21st century sensibilities? 

You can choose ANY character from the first two plays to examine; obvious examples might be Rosalind, Jacques, Portia, Bassanio, and Shylock.  However, don’t forget seemingly minor characters that have major roles in their plays such as Orlando, Touchstone, Jessica, Lancelot, and Antonio.  Imagine that you are helping an actor prepare for his/her role in seeing the ‘global’ perspective of this character—rather than a staid, Elizabethan museum piece.  Use a close reading of short, specific passages to help us ‘see’ the character: where do we see him/her speaking, acting, becoming, or hinting at global ideas?  Be sure to focus on the character’s LANGUAGE since this is how Shakespeare clothes his characters.  Don’t summarize what they say and do—show us

ALSO: To help you discuss the global aspect/issues of this character, use at least 2 secondary sources, which includes essays in the Norton edition of both plays and/or Branagh and Radford’s films of each play.  How do the films capture these modern aspects of the character?  Or, how do the essays highlight critical historical/theoretical ideas that can be embodied/illustrated in this character?  You must quote from the articles and reference specific moments in the films for this to count—don’t just write, “Portia acts with great confidence in Radford’s film.”  Show us where—and how. 

  • 4-5 pages double spaced
  • Quotation: you must quote from the play in the form of close reading to establish the character’s global characteristics
  • At least 2 secondary sources: from the articles and the films (you can use
  • Cite all primary and secondary sources according to MLA format; you can find the citation information for both films online
  • DUE Friday, February 21st by 5pm (hard copy, not e-mail)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NOTE: Questions for Wednesday are a few posts down...

I've posted a few group resource materials on top of the questions for Wednesday, but if you choose the "Sidebar" viewing option (which should be the default viewing option for this site), you can see all the posts on the left side of your screen.  If not, you have to scroll down to find the questions.  But I assure you, there are there, so don't give up looking for them!  Also, be sure to find your group's resource post and think about contacting your group members soon so you can divvy up the research tasks. 

See you Wednesday!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Resources for Twelfth Night Group

Twelfth Night Group
(Janne, Robert, Catherine)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeare site:

Link to a production of Twelfth Night directed by Branagh:

Link to a scene from the 2012 Shakespeare’s Globe All-Male production of Twelfth Night, featuring Stephen Fry as Malvolio (there are other clips on You Tube as well, and this performance is available on DVD):

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s page on Twelfth Night, with clips, links, and photos from various productions, including a recent 2012 production (not the one above):

We also have various books on Twelfth Night in our library, including critical essays on the play—check the 4th floor stacks. 

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

Resources for The Taming of the Shrew Group

The Taming of the Shrew Group
(Lisa, Teresa, Ashley, Ammi)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeare site:

Link to the full version of 10 Things I Hate About You, a high school comedy loosely modeled on The Taming of the Shrew:

The Royal Shakespeare’s page on The Taming of the Shrew, including pictures, clips, and links to numerous productions, including the recent 2012 performance:

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

Resources for Othello Group

Othello Group
(Jessi, Melissa, Cayla)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeare site:

Complete version of Branagh’s 1995 Othello (in which he plays Iago as well):

Great live performance of Othello at the Globe Theatre, 2007 (in our library):

Trailer for O, a 2001 film based loosely on Othello, set in an American high school:

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

For Wednesday: The Merchant of Venice, Act Three

[at left: Patrick Stewart as Shylock in the 2011 RSC production of The Merchant of Venice; click here for more photos and links:

Answer TWO of the following...

1. The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays, with a preponderance of verse and rhymes—especially rhyming couplets.  This occurs most notably in Belmont, especially in Act 3, Scene 2, between Bassanio and Portia.  What do you make of all the rhymes and the self-consciously musical verse?  How does this affect how we read/hear the play and understand the characters and their relationships?

2. Discuss your reading of Portia as she appears both in the previous acts and in Act 3.  Is she the true ‘hero’ of the play, able to manipulate men and choose her own destiny?  Or is she witty but ineffectual, desperate to find a good husband and enslaved by her father’s curse?  Are we supposed to relate to her/like her?  Do we laugh at her suitors with her, or does this make her appear sour and imperious? 

3. I suggested on Monday that there might be more than one Shylock in this play, which the character prompts—both Shylock and “Jew”—seem to suggest.  How do you read this, specifically in light of Shylock’s famous speech in Act 3, Scene 1?  Is this Shylock consistent with the Shylock we see elsewhere in the play, and particularly in Act 3, Scene 3, where he appears as “Jew” throughout?  Or is Shakespeare simply giving us a complex character who (like many of us) is simply more than the sum of his parts? 

4. Act 3, Scene 5 is a very odd, brief scene, as it gives center stage to three minor characters: Lancelot, Jessica, and Lorenzo.  What is the gist of this scene, particularly as it relates to Jessica and her position in the Christian world?  Do we believe the words of Lancelot, as the play’s ‘fool’?  Also note that the lovers switch from prose to verse in this scene; how do you understand this subtle shift of language?  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Questions for Acts 1 and 2 of The Merchant of Venice

Close Reading Questions for Acts 1 & 2 of The Merchant of Venice

Answer TWO of the following...

1. In general, discuss the tonal difference between the scenes in Venice and those in Belmont.  Why might we argue that these worlds seem to inhabit two entirely different plays?  Is it too much to argue that Venice is the ‘tragedy’ and Belmont the ‘comedy’?  Are there specific reasons for making this case?

2. As in As You Like It, how can we understand character relationships through the use of verse and prose?  Who speaks what and when?  Focus on a specific moment when the difference between prose and verse matters. 

3. The 2004 Radford version of The Merchant of Venice seemed to play up the homoerotic possibility between Antonio and Bassanio.  Do we see any hints of this in the text itself?  Consider specifically Act 1, Scene 1, when Bassanio tells Antonio of his plan to woo Portia.  Since there are no stage directions but only language, what does the language tell us—or hint at—if anything? 

4. Reading the bare text of Shylock, does he come across as a human being or a caricature?  What lines might give him unexpected depth—or comic buffoonery?  How might Shakespeare want him to be read/played in a specific scene?  Do you think Pacinio was faithful to the text in this regard, or did he add too much 20th century perspective on his character? 

5. The Merchant of Venice seems to have a lot of superfluous male characters, such as the frustratingly similarly named Salerio and Salanio, as well as Gratiano, Lorenzo, and even Lancelot, the clown.  Why are all these characters here, milling about?  What do some—or all—of them add to the atmosphere of the play?  Are their lines important?  Do they help us read the major players, or some other aspect of the play?  Are the nods to comic convention, or are they from a much darker play entirely?  

Resources for Hamlet group

(Kari, Kayci, Courtney)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeares site:

Complete RSC version of the play:

Trailer for Branagh’s 1996 film (we have this version at ECU, but on VHS):

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s page on Hamlet, with clips and links on numerous productions:

Be sure to check the Shakespeare section of our library (4th floor) for many critical sources on the play. 

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” 

Resources for Romeo and Juliet Group

Romeo and Juliet Group
(Tori, Nikki, Jasmine)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeares site:

Link to the trailer for the upcoming R&J adaptation, written by Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame):

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s page for Romeo and Juliet, including clips and links for numerous performance, including the recent 2010 production:

Be sure to check the Shakespeare section of our library (4th floor) for many critical sources on the play. 

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

Resources for Macbeth Group

Macbeth Group
(Kaitlin, Kelsea, Amber)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeares site:

Link to a 1997 film adaptation:

Trailer for Scottland, PA, a quirky adaptation of Macbeth:

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth page, including videos and links to many recent productions, including most recently, 2011:

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

Resources for Much Ado About Nothing Group

Much Ado About Nothing Group
(Casey, Marc, Macy)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeares site:

Trailer for Joss Wheadon’s 2013 adaptation:

The Royal Shakespeare’s page on Much Ado About Nothing, including the 2012 performance (set in India!) with video and clips:

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

Resources for A Midsummer Night's Dream Group

A Midsummer Night's Dream Group 
(Felicia, Kelsey, Kim)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeare’s site:

Note: Our Library also has a modern film version of the play: PN1997 .M5394 
You can also find several different editions of the play, along with critical commentary, in the Shakespeare section of the library (4th floor). 

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s page on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, including many different performances, clips, and links:

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

Resources for Titus Andronicus Group

Titus Andronicus Group
(Charlynn, Molly, Jennifer)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeare’s site:

The link above has 8 minutes of Taymor’s 1999 film of Titus, which I strongly recommend you watch in its entirety:

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s page on Titus, including videos and links about their 2013 production:

Our library also has copies of the play, though no other critical materials.  Be sure to check JSTOR for articles and reviews of other productions. 

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Group Presentation Assignment: Shakespearean Dramaturgy

The OED defines a dramaturgy as “Dramatic composition; the dramatic art.”  Though this term historically meant a playwright, it has come to mean someone who translates a playwright’s ideas to a theatrical company prior to performance.  This scholar uses historical research, as well as performance and character histories to help the actors interpret (and re-interpret) classic roles for a modern audience.  In our class of “Global Shakepeares,” your role is to read and study another Shakespearean play and figure out how to do just that—make Shakespeare live for a new generation of ‘groundlings.’  How can you use your English major know-how to penetrate the layers of language and history to give us a new, postmodern, postcolonial, post 9/11 Shakespeare?  And as always, how modern should we go?  What balance should we strike between respecting the text and challenging established traditions? 

In your group, I will ask you to create an “approach” to staging this play.  By approach I mean a framework for seeing/understanding the play and making it live for an audience that might not get Shakespeare.  This could be changing the setting (19th century Japan?), highlighting some aspect of the play (anti-semitism?) or simply underscoring a tone or feel of the play (comedy? Tragi-comedy?  Satire?).  You will collaboratively present this reading to us in the last two weeks of class and give us food for thought when we ‘stage’ this play in our own heads—or venture to teach it ourselves in the classroom.

Before you do all of this, you need to take the following steps:

  • Read the play in question: since you are in groups of 3, you don’t all necessarily have to read it; one person could read it and use this knowledge in the overall collaboration and help with close readings, character illustrations, and other textual details
  • Watch at least one modern (post 1980) production: on the blog post for each of your plays, I will suggest versions to watch and give links to productions on-line.  The more ‘global’ the production, the better.  Shakespeare in other languages is also acceptable. 
  • Read 2-3 scholarly articles (from JSTOR, etc.) on the play; again, someone in your group could do this reading and report back with detailed notes that will help your conception.  Interviews on-line are also acceptable, as long as they are from authoritative sources.
When you present before the class, you should give a 15-20 minute presentation that presents most of the following information:
  • A brief synopsis of the play
  • Your basic idea/approach to making this a ‘global’ production
  • A close reading of a scene or two to establish how this would work
  • A clip from a modern production to show either your ideas in action, or perhaps what you want to avoid, or simply what could happen in this play
  • Any historical, linguistic, or theoretical ideas that can help us appreciate your approach; you can show us these through handouts, powerpoints/Prezis, etc. 
  • A bibliography of sources and productions you consulted for the class (a handout)
Remember, this is a group project not because I like group projects (they can be a pain in the ass!) but because this is a big task.  It’s not fair to make one person do all of this (well, I had to do it in grad school, but it was all we had to do for the entire semester!).  Try to split up the work, help one another, discuss ideas often, and come to a real consensus of what the play can do.  You don’t necessarily have to agree, and you can suggest disagreement in your presentation, but do offer a unified vision of how you might stage this play.  I am available for help at any time this semester, and will give you materials on the blog to get you started.  I’ll also check in with you periodically to make sure you’re moving along.  Good luck and enjoy this process!  By the end of it you will be a mini-expert on this play and may be tempted to stage it yourself! 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dramaturg Presentation Groups

Below I have listed the groups for each play: each group will be responsible for researching, working together, and presenting the 'dramaturg' assignment during the last 2 weeks of class.  This is not meant to be a supremely time-consuming assignment, and ideally, you can all work together to lighten the load and work on different aspects of the assignment (which I will hand out tomorrow).  I will set up a post for each group on the blog so you can 'meet' each other, message one another, and post materials you feel will be helpful during the process.  ALSO--I changed Henry V (since no one voted for it) and replaced it with another comedy, Twelfth Night, which I think will be easier/more fun to research and present on.  It bears many similarities with As You Like It, which may also help you along. 

NOTE: One person in class does not have a group because they've only attended class 2 times, so I have to check on his/her status.  Also, in the event a student drops the class, I will work with you to make sure you can handle the workload.  If someone in your group is incommunicative or unhelpful in a serious way, please let me know...this is not meant to be a "one person does all the work while the rest of us take a nap" assignment. 

Lisa Edge, Teresa Burretta, Ashley Lynch, Ammi Ross

Felicia Doyle, Kelsey Jackson, Kim McCreery

Casey Fowler, Marc Runke, Macy McDonald

Molly Trimmer, Charlynn Estes, Jennifer Wingard

Kaitlin Forest, Kelsea Rabe, Amber Huffman

Tori Watson, Nikki Ennis, Jasmine Quinonez

Kari Wheat, Kayci Snyder, Courtney White

Jessi Randall, Melissa Williams, Cayla Odom

Janne Klassen, Robert Darling, Catherine Melton

Please let me know if you have any questions about this process after we discuss it on Friday.  I think you'll enjoy the assignment--though perhaps not as much as I'll enjoy hearing you present on them!