Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Journey to RICHARD II (Part 7)

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA, summer 2013
It's been two months since I left you hanging with Part 6 in this series about my journey through Shakespeare world, a journey that has not ended but which did have a sort of culmination in July when Joyce and I saw Richard II at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Mass., the last of the Bard's three dozen plays we had not ever seen in a live stage production.  In fact, I've left you hanging so long that you've probably forgotten you were hanging!  Well, remember: You are hanging--that's the sort of choking sensation you've been experiencing since mid-August.

Anyway, here's a link to Part 6--in case you want to refresh your memory.  That episode ended as I was about to teach Shakespeare for the first time in my life. Western Reserve Academy, fall 1979.  Frosh (Julius Caesar) and juniors (Hamlet).

At that time, as I've written, I knew very, very little about the Bard. I'd recently padded my thin volume of knowledge by reading Anthony Burgess' 1970 biography of Shakespeare, had made 35mm slides of photographs from that book to show my students, and--perhaps the brightest move of all--had purchased the Arden
Shakespeare editions of the two plays I was going to teach.  The Arden editions are superior--full of notes and explanations and maps and chronologies for readers like the Ignorant Me of Then.  (The students had different, inferior editions, so my Arden-gleaned information made it seem in class as if I knew more than I actually did. Oh, the lengths to which we teachers will go to make sure our students don't discover too quickly how ill-prepared we are!)

And--surprise, surprise--I had fun teaching those two plays.  We read aloud a lot (it really helps with Shakespeare to hear the words), we stopped and talked, we wondered what-the-hell some of those words meant, we saw a film, we memorized "To be or not to be."  That first year, I gave the kids the option of "To be" or an equivalent number of lines from another speech in the play. And one waggish junior picked the "rogue and peasant slave" speech (I think)--but on his quiz, once he got to the requisite number of lines, he simply stopped--even though he was in the middle of a sentence! He got it all right, got a perfect score-but I was ticked. It seemed to evince something malodorous, that behavior of his.

Those techniques I would continue to use throughout my career--greatly modified and enriched (I hope). As I grew in confidence with the Bard--and with my own role as a teacher--I became less worried about what I didn't know. The more scholarship I read about Shakespeare, the more I realized that no one knows it all--or understands it all. In some footnotes to the plays, I sometimes found something like this: Uncertain meaning.  No kidding.  And I discovered as well how virtually every reading (or viewing) of a play revealed something new to me that I'd missed the previous times.

I left WRA after only two years (1979-81)--a salary snit--and taught a couple of sections of freshman comp at Kent State University (no Bard), then returned to Harmon School in Aurora in the fall of 1982 to teach eighth graders.  No Shakespeare.

Until the fall of 1985--and that year I began teaching the Bard at Harmon--and following the anfractuous path that would lead me, eventually, to Richard II.

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