Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Journey to RICHARD II: Part 14

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013

Beginning in the 1985-1986 school year I taught Shakespeare to my 8th graders every year. I had a lot of fun with The Taming of the Shrew (see earlier posts), but in the summer of 1993, things changed. Joyce and I went to see Kenneth Branagh's production of Much Ado About Nothing. I knew when we emerged from that theater that I would not teach Shrew again; from now on, it would be Much Ado, which I believe, even now, is the best film ever made of a Shakespeare play. (I've not yet seen the recent Much Ado, the one directed by Joss Whedon, but it's in my Netflix queue.)

But during the 1993-1994 academic year I was on a sabbatical leave. I had generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and spent the year researching my annotations for The Call of the Wild, an effort that resulted in my book The Call of the Wild by Jack London, with an Illustrated Reader's Companion (Univ. of Okla. Pr., 1995). I had a great year in London World that year--a year that culminated (as I've posted here before) with a hike over the Chilkoot trail from Dyea, Alaska, to Lake Bennett in the Yukon Territory, a trail that figures prominently in Wild.

But all that year I was thinking about Much Ado and how I would use it in my classes. I had only two worries about the film: (1) some naked (male) butts in the opening credits (Don Pedro's men leap into water to bathe after being off at war); (2) a kind of raunchy faux-sex scene involving Borachio and Margaret, an "act" to dupe young hothead Claudio into believing that his bride-to-be (Hero) is being unfaithful to him the night before their wedding. I described the scenes to my principal, Jerry Brodsky, who advised me to handle it all professionally (hey, who is more professional than I!?!?), and so off I went.

The school bought a classroom set of the play scripts; I found a great audio recording of a professional production, and I knew by the time I was back at Harmon School (post-sabbatical) that the film would be on VHS. It was. And--not long afterwards--on laser disc (remember them?) The school had some laser disc players, so I had both the VHS and the disc available to show.

When I returned to teach in the 1994-1995 school year, I was pretty sure I was going to be retiring in only a few years (I did: January 1997), so I went all out with the Bard during those few years. We listened to play, reading along in our books, stopping to talk; we listened to Elizabethan music; we ate hazelnuts (a favorite snack food then); we played an Elizabethan card game called Trumps; I organized a lunch-time competition in an Elizabethan table-top game called Slide-Thrift. (Scores of kids signed up.) I taught the fundamental differences between you and thou (thy, thine, thyself) and required the kids to use those words instead of you forms in class.  We watched the Branagh film (which, from my point of view, most of the kids loved).

But perhaps the most fun of all?  I married two of the kids to each other.


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