Still swamped. Still trying to get my bearings in the new teaching gig…
But don’t think there hasn’t been Shakespeare in my life.
Since learning how to manage a class from the great (I would assume late, but I’m not sure, and sure hope he isn’t) Bob Miller, I’ve always started each class with something for the students to be doing when the class begins. So for last Friday’s first day, I had projected at the front of the class sonnet 18, with the simple instruction for the students to write down everything they notice about it, no matter–actually really focusing on–how minor those things are.
This gave me a chance to take roll, as the students broke it all down.
Then we spent easily 15 minutes over everything they found: it’s a poem; there’s a number 18 above it; almost every line ends with punctuation, but except for the first line ending in a question mark, it’s really just one long sentence; that some of the words inside the lines seem to be contractions but not the way we normally see them. The more advanced classes noticed the rhyme scheme, line length, the fact that it’s a sonnet, and it sounds like a love poem.
And that gives me the chance to teach form and function: three quatrains plus a couplet vs. an octet and a sextet; a brief discussion of the iamb (nothing in depth…for now); Shakespeare and how he wasn’t just a playwright; the idea of a sonnet cycle.
Then, and only then, did we dive into the words of the poem. I read it once all they way through for them. Then we took it on, one line at a time, asking them what some of the words meant–by context for them in many cases, by denotation and connotation by me in follow-up. And then we discussed who the audience was, and the fact that there are different ways to approach it: the object of the poet’s affection to be sure, but also the reader, and maybe even to time itself. I asked how that might affect the meaning of the poem, and almost every class got that the sextet of the poem is really more about the high opinion the poet has of his own skills than the beauty of his love.
And that was when I told them that I’m not just going to assign readings and writings. I was going to guide them to find meaning and present those meanings in their writings.
It felt pretty damned good.
A good start.