What's wrong with debates? As long as it's kept civil, I see no reason not
to dispute someone else's notions if you disagree with them and are able to
back up your points.
I'm a bit unclear on the following statement, though. You said:
"As a trained English teacher, I think you underestimate the difficulties
that Elizabethan language can pose for those who haven't had sustained
educational exposure to it."
Was that a logical appeal to authority: You speaking as a trained English
teacher, or were you stating that you thought that I, as a trained English
teacher, was underestimating the difficulties intrinsic within the texts of
Shakespeare's stuff for the newcomer?
I'm assuming that it's the former.
The reason for the lack of clarity?
I, too am a trained English teacher.
I'll go you one further: for the past ten years I have taught Shakespeare
during the summer, every summer, to summer school students taking credit
retrieval courses. If I have sophomores, we read MACBETH. If I have
juniors/seniors, we read HAMLET.
I don't know how long it's been since you taught summer school, but I can
assure you that most of the kids taking those classes (God love 'em!) aren't
headed for Harvard.
And yet I have never, EVER had a problem drawing them in to these plays
(used MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM a couple of times as well). We assign parts, read an act together (with me giving explanation as needed), then watch a good film version of the play in question (I always recommend that they follow along in their books as they watch the play, which is an aid, but not the same thing as modern language subtitles).
In the case of MACBETH, it's the 1978 BBC version with Ian McKellen
(pre-Magneto and Gandalf fame) and Dame Judy Dench (pre-M in James Bond films fame) in the two lead roles, and within its staging limitations, it's spectacular. The scene where McKellen as Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost (there is no actor in the scene playing Banquo's ghost) and reacts as anyone
"seeing a ghost" would, amidst the reasonable stares and mystification his behavior draws from the others at dinner with him is particularly effective.
In the case of HAMLET, I show them Kenneth Branagh's version. He might not
be the best screen Hamlet ever (that honor in my book goes to Nicol
Williamson), but Branagh is a terrific actor, a shrewd judge of when scenes
need to be cut with non-dialogue scenes that illustrate some off-screen
action that the actor in question might be relating to his fellow players
(and to the audience), is a good director and particularly effective at surrounding himself with superb actors not afraid to illustrate the subjects of their speeches with appropriate actual acting, rather than standing around and declaiming their lines.
A bit of disclosure, here. English is actually my secondary area of
endorsement. I have a Master's in history, and that's what I teach most of
the time these days. But I cut my teaching teeth on English, and taught it
full-time for years before I found a history gig.
During the time I taught English I met an awful lot of other English
teachers who didn't like teaching Shakespeare, and seemed outright
intimidated by it. Many of them vastly prefrerred teaching HUCKLEBERRY FINN
(another superb piece of writing) or grammar assignments. It occurred to me more than once that many of these teachers were simply intimidated by the language (not saying that about you, Mark, just an observation), and it wasn't so much that they didn't like teaching *Shakespeare* as that they didn't like teaching something about which they knew next to nothing. I understand that. I consider math to be a *very* difficult subject to teach, because I'm only just conversant in it, as opposed to expert in its operation.
I consider myself lucky that one of my two fields of specialization for my
MA was Tudor/Stuart English history, and I think that really helps to inform
my teaching of Shakespeare to teenagers. I further admit to being something
of a Shakespeare geek (and my hat's off to you regarding Julie Taymor's
TITUS. I found it arty, pretentious, impossible to follow and utterly
without merit, as opposed to her brilliant staging of THE LION KING on
Broadway, which I found captivating), so I suspect that some of my
enthusiasm on the subject is infectious (they love when I explain the dirty
jokes to them. That's how you suck them in to start with).
So while I wouldn't say it's "easy" to "get" Shakespeare at first, or that
it's "easy" to peddle it to teenagers who can't be bothered to do homework
during the school year, let alone during the summers, I would say that it's
a highly worthwhile endeavor.
And if the pack of lovable "characters" I've had troop through my classes
over the years could be brought to an appreciation of the Bard, anyone can.
All the Best-
On Fri, Oct 24, 2008 at 12:00 PM, Mark R. Harris <email@example.com>wrote:
> I promised myself not to be drawn into debates, but I'll say this: I
> see what you lose with the subtitles. You just gain clarity in case you
> mis-hear a word or phrase. (Since you mention Titus Andronicus -- Julie
> Taymor's Titus is especially good to watch with subtitles. That is a vastly
> under-rated play! And talk about hard-boiled/noir...)
> As a trained English teacher, I think you underestimate the difficulties
> that Elizabethan language can pose for those who haven't had sustained
> educational exposure to it. I've taught Shakespeare; it is tough.
> On Fri, Oct 24, 2008 at 1:39 PM, Brian Thornton
> <firstname.lastname@example.org <bthorntonwriter%40gmail.com>>wrote:
> > I could not disagree more on the part about watching Shakespeare with
> > subtitles.
> > While it's true that Elizabethan English is different in many ways from
> > Standard American or modern British English, it is still very much
> > English, with few variations on anything other than standard sentence
> > structure.
> > It's like anything else, experience with it breeds comfort, and if ever
> > there was an author in any language worth spending a little time with,
> > Willie the Shake. And keeping this mildly on-topic, I defy you to find an
> > author whose work is more intrinsically hard-boiled and in many cases
> > laughably bad TITUS ANDRONICUS, the devastating KING LEAR, that vehicle
> > the ultimate femme fatale MACBETH, and his masterpiece, HAMLET come to
> > mind)
> > outright noirish.
> > If it were Middle English (Chaucer) or Old English (BEOWULF) I could see
> > the
> > appropriateness of subtitles, but with Shakespeare? Nah. You lose
> > something in subtitles.
> > All the Best-
> > Brian
> > On Fri, Oct 24, 2008 at 11:29 AM, Mark R. Harris <email@example.com<brokerharris%40gmail.com>
> > > I recently compared watching the first half-hour of the 1962 British
> > > film
> > > The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner first without, then with
> > > English-language subtitles. I got so much more out of the film with the
> > > subtitles, it was amazing. Whenever there are any linguistic issues
> > an
> > > English-language film -- thick accents, slang, difficult language
> > > (Shakespeare) -- I recommend using the English subtitles if they are
> > > available on the DVD, which they increasingly are.
> > >
> > > Mark
> > >
> > > On 10/24/08, Kevin Burton Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org<kvnsmith%40sbcglobal.net>
> > <kvnsmith%40sbcglobal.net>>
> > > wrote:
> > > >
> > > > I speak both American and Canadian, and am working on English.
> > > >
> > > > Does that count?
> > > >
> > > > (Hey guys! Down here BBC programs often have sub-titles!)
> > > >
> > > > Kevin
> > > >
> > > > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> > > >
> > > >
> > > >
> > >
> > > --
> > > Mark R. Harris
> > > 2122 W. Russet Court #8
> > > Appleton WI 54914
> > > (920) 470-9855
> > > email@example.com <brokerharris%40gmail.com> <brokerharris%
> 40gmail.com> <brokerharris%
> > 40gmail.com>
> > >
> > > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> Mark R. Harris
> 2122 W. Russet Court #8
> Appleton WI 54914
> (920) 470-9855
> firstname.lastname@example.org <brokerharris%40gmail.com>
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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