Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Journey to Richard II (Part 10)

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA
July 2013
Digging around in old files creates an equal mix of illumination and depression. I find, digging, things that I long ago forgot I even had; the depression comes when I ask: Why do I still have this? And What am I going to do with this?

I've been going through things lately, looking for early examples of how I taught Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew back in the mid-1980s to my eighth graders at Harmon School in Aurora, Ohio--the first time I'd attempted to teach the Bard at that level. (Earlier posts here have dealt with my initial experiences teaching Hamlet at Western Reserve Academy around 1980.)

I found some old files that contain both my plans for the year and my marking-period calendars that I gave the kids, listing, day by day, what I'd intended to do during those nine-week periods. Naturally, the only schedule missing is the one from 1985-86 (grrrr), but I do have the one from the next year (87-88; I was on sabbatical leave in 1986-87). (Image below.) There probably wasn't much difference between the two years: My progress through the Bard was slow but steady.

Right after Thanksgiving break, it seems, I started with some introductory material about Shakespeare's life and times--including the many slides I'd copied from various books. I had a set of notes I'd given the kids, too--notes that required them to fill in blanks at various places. I played recordings of Elizabethan music for them, too, talked about what school was like when the Bard was a boy--that sort of thing.

Next, I see some days devoted to the play itself. What I did: I played a cassette tape of a professional production (after the first year--and a tape that jammed--I learned to have a back-up ready!); we listened; the kids followed along in books; we stopped and talked--or I paused and explained things. Or paused when there were questions. The kids memorized a chunk of a speech from the play--Petruchio's "Is the jay more precious than the lark?"--a speech that my son can still reel off on demand, by the way. So can I.

Well, come, my Kate; we will unto your father's
Even in these honest mean habiliments:
Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor;
For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich;
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.
What is the jay more precious than the lark,
Because his fathers are more beautiful?
Or is the adder better than the eel,
Because his painted skin contents the eye?
O, no, good Kate; neither art thou the worse
For this poor furniture and mean array.
if thou account'st it shame. lay it on me;
And therefore frolic: we will hence forthwith,
To feast and sport us at thy father's house.

In January, you see, we watched the film of Shrew--the Burton-Taylor-Zeffirelli one. Then ... some excerpts from the1953 film of Kiss Me, Kate, the 1948 Cole Porter musical (with book by Samuel and Bella Spewack) about a production of a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. After all the fun ... even more fun: a two-day exam on all the above.

As the years went on with Shrew, my introductory material became more and more elaborate. I'd taken a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the Shakespeare sites; I'd read dozens of books, seen every play I could in the area (we didn't start our Stratford, Ont., sojourns until later on), bought recorded music, antique prints of scenes from the plays, posters of movies and shows (many of which I hung on my Harmon walls--including original posters from the films of Shrew and Kate).

And for more and more days (weeks?) of my school year the Bard became the teacher; I, the interlocutor.

PS--Another discovery. During that 1985-1986 year I kept, off an on, a diary I recorded into a little cassette player. Later, I transcribed it (most of it? all?); it's well over a hundred pages. Next time, I'll quote some excerpts from that document ... and see if I can find the tapes anywhere?!?!?

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