Your Mission : Shakespeare Attitude Adjustment

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to start bringing a little Shakespeare appreciation into the world.  Right now, from your computer. Are you on Twitter?  Here’s what I want you to do.  Figure out how to add search/watches to your main feed, and then add “Shakespeare.” What you’ll get is a pretty steady stream of students complaining about their Shakespeare homework, or at the very least pleading confusion and begging for help. Set them straight. If they are asking for help, give it. If they’re frustrated over something, help them over it. [A popular complaint is “Why didn’t Shakespeare write in modern effing English?!”  I always gently point out that, technically, he did.] If they’re bored, show them the entertaining bits.  [There’s always a dirty joke lurking somewhere nearby.] If they’re mistaken in their understanding of something, correct them.  [Just last night somebody wrote about completing his paper on Jacques, from As You Like It.  I wrote back “I hope you spelled it Jaques in your paper, his name’s not Jacques” :)]   That’s part of the beauty of Twitter, you never know when you’ll spot new opportunities to communicate with people.  You may not always get a response, and when you do it might not always be polite – but who cares.  Give it a shot.  For every kid out there that moans “I hate Shakespeare!” there’s even more who want to like it, if only they understood it better.  Here’s your chance.

5 thoughts on “Your Mission : Shakespeare Attitude Adjustment

  1. I post about Shakespeare on my Twitter account sometimes. Rarely anything too negative.

    I have to comment on when you say to answer “Why didn’t Shakespeare write in modern effing English?!” with “technically, he did.” Even though it is technically modern English, it is nothing like today’s spoken English. Everyone gets the point the frustrated student is trying to make, so I never respond like that to anyone who complains about Shakespeare’s English. It makes me feel like a snob and I know the person thinks I am something worse. Other complaints about shakespeare I might argue, but not that one. That is one that I think should just be left alone in that type of situation.

  2. Point well taken, Chrissy. Although I’ll defend my own as well. I’m not telling the person “Hey jackass you’re wrong, go look it up”. I’m trying to show them that Shakespearean English is in fact significantly closer to today’s English than they might think. I think that if kids start with the belief that he’s writing in a foreign language, that they assume it is harder than it really is.

    I’ll use the example that was the defining moment for me. Hamlet, to Horatio: “Thrift, Horatio, thrift! The thrice-baked funeral meats did coldly furnish forth the wedding tables” (from memory, nobody jump on me if I misquoted). It’s true that people don’t talk like that today, I can’t deny it. But are there really any words or grammar there that are all that alien? Hamlet’s making a pretty dark joke about his mother’s wedding so fast after her husband’s death by saying – “We saved money by using the leftover food from the funeral to serve at the wedding.”

    You can say that’s not modern English because people don’t speak that way today, but then arguably every generation could say that about one or two generations removed, couldn’t they? Do today’s 16yr olds talk like an 86 year old? We’re still all using the same basic sentence structure, and most of the base vocabulary is the same, it’s just that some words come and go with time.

  3. i posted polonius’ to thine own self be true in my fb status and got into an on then offline argument with a college acquaintance who didn’t like it.

    she pointed out that “while it is a famous quote and all…” it encourages others to selfishness and arrogance when we should be true to God. (i went to a christian college, Gordon College, where we were taught to integrate faith and learning… and some still take it to the nth degree).

    i pointed out to her that the full quote is if you are truthful, not just true to self, you cannot be false to others, and by being truthful, you do service to God.

    another friend left a great comment that shot her argument to bits and then she called me to further argue that the quote in and of itself does NOT say be truthful, but be true to yourself. very selfish, very ayn rand almost… and very unchristian a state to be in.

    so we argued for about 10 minutes and i told her that she’s being too literal. it’s fatherly advice, be truthful and you can’t be false. what’s wrong with that? shut up and have a nice day.

    so you see my bringing shakespeare into my online world opened a nice little can of worms. mwah ha ha ha.

  4. Interesting argument you got into, there. I can actually sort of see the point, which I’d never considered. If you emphasize the wrong bits – to *thine own self* be true – then you could certainly read it as meaning “Dude, as long as you’re ok with it, that’s all that matters.”

    I think that’s a shallow and inaccurate interpretation by folks who are looking for easy examples to jump on. But that’s one of the things I love about this stuff, the fact that you can have so many different variations. Couldn’t you just picture a sinister Polonius who, while still giving “fatherly advice” to his son, is really telling his son how to be a cheat and a crook and get away with it? Perhaps the “canst not be false” could be interpreted as “no one will think you’re lying if you believe it yourself” (“no one will see you as false”).

    Maybe it wouldn’t jive with the rest of the evidence in the play, but that’s where you start in with the creative editing to make your point.

  5. duane, it is exactly that — one line, simply quoted, and interpreted out of context.

    it was a lively debate though, and after 20 years i’m glad i still have the teeth to chew on such things with others.

    lots o’fun!

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