Manifesto (or “And, why–exactly–are we doing this?”)

OK, you’re probably asking,

“So, why, oh egotistical one, why are you doing this?”

The answer does involve some ego (if I’m posting any of this to the web, I must think that at some point someone might be interested in what I have to say about the subject). But the majority of the answer lay in one simple fact:

I love Shakespeare.

cue one of the final scenes from one of my favorite flicks of all time, Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, during which our hero William Miller asks rock god Russell Hammond, “So, Russell…what do you love about music?” and the guitarist responds, “To begin with… everything.”

And I have for most of my adult life, ever since my freshman year way back in 1977 at Hueneme High School (yeah, do the math, guys). But more on that at some later date.

I love it in performance (again, more on that later), I love it in study (ditto) and in teaching (ditto again).

I’ve taught quite a bit of it and read even more of it.

I’ve been out of the classroom now for — jeez — 13 years, three years longer than I spent in the classroom (but more about that — say it with me, brutha — later).

And I’ve been missing It more and more lately, missing the kids, the composition (even the grading of essays… kinda), the literature (duh), the TEACHING Maybe it’s a not-quite-doubled Seven Year Itch. Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis (though not the kind where I leave the wife and kids, buy a Harley, and start dating a girl who can’t legally drink yet [I had been flirting with the idea of a Ural… but I think that urge has passed and it’s a-whole-nother story, anyway]). Regardless, my mind has drifted back to Shakespeare, especially when Kyle’s freshman English Honors class was going to be covering Romeo and Juliet.

Two years ago, I got my teaching fix, presenting an introduction to Shakespeare when his class read a modernized version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I talked about the concepts of language and poetry, concentrating on iambic pentameter. Here’s the PPT I put together.

This year, though, it was Romeo and Juliet, a play I’ve taught more than any other (having taught ninth grade English [and mostly non-college prep, to boot] for half of my years in the classroom). I talked to Kyle’s teacher at Open House and offered my services.  She said that I could most definitely come and present to the class. So I put together a PPT on the concept of time in the play. But more importantly, it was great and wonderful to just read and rediscover the text (but more about that in May of 2010 when we discuss that play in depth).

I’ve read the play, taught it, directed it, and acted in it, but in this reading, concentrating on scansion, I found things I had never noticed before. For example, I am now thoroughly convinced that the Nurse is an alcoholic and drunk in some scenes of the play (but again, stay tuned for May of ’10).

It was a great experience re-reading the play, and it produced some good work on my part (here’s the PPT). But that made it all the more frustrating when the teacher canceled out at the last minute.

But it was nothing compared to the frustration of discussing the play with Kyle, only to learn that the class’ examination of the play amounted to a reading, the musty old Zeffirelli version (which I watched as a 16mm film–with a projector!–in high school), a group video project, and a whopping one combined day of discussions.

Zounds!
[and that does NOT rhyme with “mounds,” no matter what Bruce Willis says in the HILARIOUS Moonlighting take on The Taming of the Shrew… it rhymes with “wounds”… as it’s a contraction and euphemism for the mild oath “God’s wounds”]

When it’s a student’s first crack at the Bard, it had better be presented well, or we’re gonna lose that kid forever. Here, you have the best possible play to introduce adolescents to Shakespeare, filled with sex (or at least bawdiness and dirty jokes) and violence… and we have only one day of discussion and explication? No sex jokes to start the play. No importance of Benvolio’s name. No age for Lady Capulet. No name for the Nurse. No debate on the half-life of the Friar’s potion. No discussion of the tragedy that befalls the play’s THREE central families. [can’t wait for May, can ya?]

A totally blown opportunity.

And it pissed me off.

And so here I am… ready to make the world safe for Shakespeare again!

Grandiose? Maybe. Egotistical? Yeah, probably… but fuck it: the most dangerous man in the world is the one with everything to prove and nothing to lose.

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