Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy 450th Birthday, William Shakespeare!!

Okay, I will confess it right here in public:

Hi, my name is Susanne, and I am a Shakespeare Geek. 

I have the watch to prove it.

You see, it all started in my senior year at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, California. My English teacher, Bobbi Jordan, was teaching a one-semester English elective on Shakespeare.

That class changed my life.

We read the plays mostly aloud in class, Mrs. Jordan assigning parts (and keeping the choicest ones for herself, as she unashamedly announced on the first day of class). As Mrs. Jordan had spent her summers in college traveling as part of a Shakespearean troupe, she really knew her stuff. Occasionally she would drag some characters out of their seats and quickly block a scene as they read their parts from our well-worn Folger Library editions of the plays.

So instead of the normal Shakespearean fare that every college-prep high school student was forced to endure: Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Hamlet (in grades 9, 10, 11, and 12, respectively), we read A Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, King Lear, Two Gentlemen of Verona, etc. Mrs. Jordan also took us on a field trip to the Old Globe Theater in San Diego to see a dress rehearsal of The Merry Wives of Windsor. (It helps when one's teacher knows the director!)

And we had quite the celebration for Shakespeare's birthday. During the first week of April, we all had to draw the name of a fellow student out of a hat and hand-craft a gift for that person to give them on Shakespeare's birthday. I remember embroidering the initials "M.A." on handkerchiefs as my gift to a very popular girl, and I still have the beribboned floral wreath headpiece that a shy young man (I don't remember his name, but can still envision his face) gave me. The wreath, rather faded and a little bedraggled, hangs on my mirror in our bedroom.

But it was the sheer joy in Mrs. Jordan's approach to the Bard that made me want to read more of his work. One of her assignments was for us to read a play NOT on our lists---one we had never read before--and write a response to it. I chose Measure for Measure which has been and remains my favorite Shakespeare play, period. I was thrilled to finally see in on stage at the Old Globe several years ago. Isabella's steadfastness of faith in the face of true evil inspires me--as well as her willingness to forgive when she senses the repentant heart behind the apology.

And thus started my love of Shakespeare and his works. I took Shakespeare classes at Point Loma Nazarene University from Dr. DeSaegher and Dr. Bennett, and then I retook the latter professor's Histories and Comedies class when Dr. Maxine Walker (then Crain) joined the department. My two partners-in-crime, Johanna and Vera, and I would huddle in the office of our department chair, Dr. Seamans, while he was on sabbatical, reading the plays aloud in parts as we prepared for class together. And after I received my Master of Arts in English and was teaching at PLNU, I was asked by Dr. Seamans to cover his Shakespeare class's discussion of Henry V as he had to be at a conference.

At Brave Writer, I somehow slipped into teaching Shakespeare each May--which is officially "Shakespeare Month" at Brave Writer. I now teach The Shakespeare Family Workshop course for families each spring (which is now in its third of five weeks), followed by a Literary Analysis course on one of Shakespeare's plays. This year we'll be taking on Romeo & Juliet which I have rather been avoiding since seeing a 4+ hour production at San Diego State University that was agony to behold. (We should have followed Dr. Seamans' example of escaping at intermission, especially as I heard my brother chanting "Die, Juliet, die" under his breath as the play came to its close--finally!!)

And in the 2014-2015 school year, I plan to teach a class at the ECII Class Day with Heritage Christian School called Discussing Shakespeare. The plan is to mirror Mrs. Jordan's class and over the course of the year, read eight plays: three comedies (Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice), two histories (Richard III, Henry V), and three tragedies (Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet). We'll focus on reading certain scenes in class, perhaps doing some scenes for the end-of-the-year opening, watching scenes from YouTube or DVD's, and just discussing the plays as a class--something that is rather lacking in most homeschools.

So, after all that, today is Shakespeare's 450th birthday!! As I posted to my Shakespeare Family Workshop, I have a few ideas for how we can celebrate:

So let’s celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this week in our homes. Here are some ideas:

  • Perhaps gather around the table with scones and jam and some Earl Grey tea and read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets aloud (you can find Shakespeare sonnet apps for your smart phone or check out this site: Shakespeare's sonnets),

  • Read some of Shakespeare’s famous monologues aloud dramatically, perhaps even in costume. Check this listing from on Shakespeare Monologues, featuring some of the best single-person speeches, one list for men and one for women: Try performing them for family members and/or friends or at a co-op!

  • Perform a Shakespeare scene as a puppet show or act out a scene in costume; either memorize parts or make copies of the scene for all the actors. Here are some scenes and scripts for kids from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.:

  • Watch your favorite Shakespeare play on film (mine is Kenneth Branagh'sMuch Ado About Nothing).  Check your local library or Netflix for some excellent titles, and the International Movie Database includes some helpful parents guides with advisory content for you along with ratings and information on most film versions.

  • For older kids, check out Michael Woods’ in-depth documentary In Search of Shakespeare which first aired on PBS in 2004. Both the DVD and the companion book should be readily available through most public libraries.

  • Better yet, see a live Shakespeare play as soon as possible. Check out college/university performances near you as they’re usually much less expensive than professional productions. 
So how are you going to celebrate the Bard's Birthday?? It isn't every day that the most famous writer in the English language turns 450, right? 

With warm regards from your friendly Shakespeare Geek,

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