Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shakespeare and me? Shakespeare and I? A love for Will....

William Shakespeare: A Flair of Dramatic
The inevitable time of the year is here. Shakespeare is all around me. I am teaching all senior ELA so needless to say.....I have to love him. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet are the three Shakespeare plays that I do with my students from grades 9-12 and every year I learn a little more about the myth, the legend, the not-so-pretty-to-look-at man whom I have grown to love.

Now to be totally honest, I didn't always LOVE Shakespeare....I understood the gist of R&J when I read it in high school, I enjoyed the witches in Macbeth when I was a teenager, and was frustrated with Hamlet's long soliloquy's as a grade 12 student. I get it when my students hate or are confused by some of the ways that Shakespeare wrote - I was there! So when it comes time every year for me to teach about Will and his incredibly complex plays, I get all bubbly and excited. I figure that if my students can sense some upbeat teaching in the future then maybe, just maybe, they will be ready to take on a challenge.

Challenge is putting it mildly for some kids because there will always be those who just never get it, hate it and will be on you about 'why we have to do this' every time. My response is yes, you do have to do this but keep an open mind. I find that if I can keep myself excited to hear what will happen next, like it is the first time I am hearing it over again, then my suspenseful leads I discuss in class will keep my students on the hook. We always read it aloud together - a student reads a character (which may be different every class), and we discuss when I deem it difficult or interesting or significant throughout the scenes. I pause during reading to make predictions, explain or confirm things we have figured out, and point out key ideas or details that will be important in the future to refer to. This seems to help greatly in the scheme of things as the students complete discussion style questions after every scene or two.

Hopefully by approaching my Shakespeare readings this way I am building the students to a point where when they read something by Shakespeare on their own (which sometimes I get them to do before class as a challenge - read a scene for homework, we discuss at the beginning of class and then re-read it together and they see how much they really understood on their own), that they are able to comprehend a little more every time and my role will become less and less of re-telling the story in my own words, and more of a discussion on the bigger things happening in the story and the super interesting, underlying tones of the characters, plots and subplots! The really fun stuff as I call it (the kids hate that)! :-)

Billy and I have had a long relationship. I grew to love his work in University when I was getting my teaching degree. I thought to myself that it would be a wonderful asset to take a University level Shakespeare class since I was going to hopefully be teaching ELA when I graduated. I knew I wasn't a really big fan at the time but since the benefit outweighed the struggle I may encounter, I did it. I bought my extremely large book called "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" and went straight to it. I read the plays, sonnets, and all sorts of random thoughts written by Shakespeare in Elizabethan England. The amount of reading I did, the amount of extra reading of cole's notes and helper books, and the amount of discussing we did in class really got me on track. You have to want to understand it, to let yourself become immersed in his work and re-read until you get it to understand my friend William Shakespeare. He is quite the cat that guy. He is complex, unyielding and uses many words when one would suffice, but I love him for it nonetheless. The stories he wrote are so multi-dimensional that every year I teach these plays that I have read probably 10 times each, I learn something new or develop a new understanding or liking/or hate for one of the characters I never really noticed the first 4 times I read it. That is the magic with Billy; being able to open eyes again and again to new generations of scholars.

Shakespeare's work has really transcended time and although no one will ever write like that again (especially with the age of texting, lol-ing, brb-ing and C-U-L8TR-ing!), I know that it is some ties to the past that brings me back to my love for Shakespeare. It brings me to an easier time where life was really about finding entertainment in theatre and listening to a character explain his heart out over a tiny incident. We have lost that. That love for theatre, for finding greatness in a 2 hour special event in an outdoor theatre in England after a day of scraping by, to enjoy the sun in your face and the words of a man so complex himself that his writing could only reflect his life and times he lived. How spectacular is that? I know my students may never grow the love for Will as I have, but it doesn't hurt to try. Romance, tragedy and heroes - who could ask for more? Not I, not I.