Monday, January 9, 2012

When you're placed into the public school system and expected to be taught Shakespeare, it seems the same old tale is told everytime: Read a little Romeo & Juliet, lament with Hamlet, and then move on into the next unit of literature. This, of course, paints a very dull picture of the beauty of Shakespeare. It's like viewing a washed-out and ragged picture of the Mona Lisa: stale, boring, and overworked. The students are so busy complaining about the stuffy, incomprehensible language that they don't see the action of the play. And when they ARE exposed to a staged version of Shakespeare (as the plays were truly meant to be--they are PLAYS after all) its to the same old hum-and-drum speed. Most of the time it is the students that are expected to act out the roles, stuck in the same old song-and-dance of stubbling over lines and trying to understand just what the Renaissance was like.

I was fortunate enough to know that theatre can elevate and enhance nearly any written word, but I was participating just as much as anyone else in the big group-groan that occurred when our teachers would mention the words 'William Shakespeare' or, even worse, *shudder* 'Romeo and Juliet'. It wasn't until we got into high school--almost too late, because we'd been thoroughly trained to visibly repell from any work of the Bard--that we were able to experience the laughter and BEAUTY of his works.

As members of the Honor track at our high school, we didn't get to choose our teacher; there was one and only one for each level. Luckily, the Honors Literature teacher turned out to be a Shakespeare God-send. We walked into class come the dreaded 'Shakespeare Unit' day to a complete transformation. Renaissance decor and music greeted our senses, and we beheld the astonishing sight of our normally level-headed teacher bedecked ... In Real CHAINMAIL! Even some of our classmates had donned Lady-in-Waiting dresses and tunic-and-tights (the former for the females and latter for their counterparts, of course).

That week was quite possibly the best of our high school experience. At random times throughout the day we would see our H.L. teacher running toward us with plastic-tipped rapiers, and we'd be allowed to have impromptu stages fights (supervised, of course, by the fencing coach--our H.L. teacher!). We memorized scenes from Shakespeare and filmed them--to be viewed in our senior year, which was both hysterical and embarrassing. And members from the local Renaissance company in town came and put on short, outrageous showcasings of Shakespearean comedies. We learned to revel in Shakespeare rather than cower from his works.

The best moment we had with Shakespeare in high school, however, came in our senior year--after we got over the partial horror of watching ourselves slaughter the Shakespearean language with open glee. The Utah Shakespeare Company sent about the Shakespeare-in-the-Schools ensemble, and we (who resided in Arizona) somehow got lucky enough to have them grace our school stage. They performed The Taming of the Shrew, and I saw Shakespeare the way I can never forget.

Rather that dawdy old Renaissance where everything is strict and restrained and just a bit dull, they place Katrina and her hoard of comrades in the Mid West! There were gun fights and long johns and Kate being thrown about the stage. It did something to Shakespeare that I had never considered a possibility: they made an adaption. It opened my eyes to the field of opportunities that could be explored. And while they kept the traditional Shakespeare language, I began to question 'What If?'. Why not take only a character, or only a plot, or a theme, and run with it? Why not make a NEW work of Shakespeare? Why not?

1 comment:

  1. You're lucky to have had a teacher who could make Shakespeare interesting, especially to high school students who had already decided that Shakespeare was to be avoided at all costs. I was unfortunate enough in high school to learn from an extremely dull (and pretentious) teacher who almost permanently damaged my ability to enjoy his works! Haha