Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Journey to Richard II, Part 13

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA
July 2013
In 1985-86 I taught Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew) for the first time to eighth graders--and I had such a good time that the Bard never again left my classroom--not until I retired. I know that the kids enjoyed much of what we did (though I think they were always a little puzzled about my affection for it all), but I probably would have continued with it anyway for a simple reason: I'd become obsessed, and my obsessions generally found their ways into my classes--or onto the stages where I directed plays.

By the time the early 1990s came along, I had read all of the plays-sonnets-poems of Shakespeare (some more than once); I was going to see--and often taking students with me--every Shakespearean production in the area. And the activities in my class were becoming more and more involved, consuming more and more days and weeks. I didn't care; I was having a ball. And ... there were no Shakespeare-less standardized tests around to blow cold breath on my fire. (They would come later--and not much later, either.)

A highlight: In the summer of 1986 I was in London with my older brother, Richard, and there we saw Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Dalton (who would later become James Bond) in rep with The Taming of the Shrew and Antony and Cleopatra.  On that same trip, I went to Stratford-upon-Avon for the first time, visiting the various shrines.

So ... throughout the early 1990s my students were reading/listening to the play, memorizing lines from it and from other plays and sonnets, sitting in a classroom whose walls were covered with posters from Shakespeare plays and films (including an original movie poster from the 1967 Zeffirelli film). And--to my students' great delight--there was in 1986 an episode of Moonlighting (the very popular TV series with Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd) that was a take-off on Shrew, including a wedding scene during which Petruchio (Willis) breaks out into "Good Lovin'"; the whole church joins in. We watched on a video tape I had.

We were also learning about Cole Porter and read Kiss Me, Kate (the musical based on Shrew) and
watched the 1953 film that featured a little-known (at the time) dancer named Bob Fosse. And that led to watching Fosse in his other films ... and on and on I went. (Link to song from production--not with Fosse. And a scene choreographed by Fosse--he's the guy dancing, too.) Another dancing star in the show: Ann Miller. Here she is doing "Too Darn Hot."

Of course, the kids were also writing about Shrew, as well. In my son's file from his 1985-86 year in my 8th grade class is an essay he wrote. Here was the assignment:

By reading (and watching) The Taming of the Shrew you should have a pretty good idea of what a "shrew" is. In this composition you are going to write a definition of a "shrew"; however, you will not just write a definition such as you would find in a dictionary. Instead, you will tell what a "shrew" is by giving examples of what Shakespeare's characters considered "curst and shrew'd" behavior. On the back of this sheet is an example of such a description, only this writer is defining something different ....

I could not remember what that "something" was until I looked myself: It's several paragraphs from Barry Lopez's book Of Wolves and Men. Wow! I'd found a way to integrate Shakespeare and The Call of the Wild!

The kids also wrote other, more "creative" pieces, too--including an imaginary visit to the Globe Theater. But let's save that for another day.  I'll leave you with this sentence from Steve Dyer, 1986, age 13: "Another incident of shrewishness was when she smashes a lute over Hortensio's head."

I'd say so ... though Hortensio was a dork.

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