Longtime readers of the blog will know that we’ve been waiting literally for years for my kids to start learning Shakespeare in school. Middle school was a big bust, with one teacher in the eighth grade who dragged his feet during Romeo and Juliet to the point where my oldest never even finished it, and when her younger sister later had the same teacher, he didn’t even try, he just showed the movie.
My oldest is in high school now and taking a class called Monsters in British Literature, where they’ll be reading The Tempest. My favorite. The one I used to tell them as a bedtime story. Plus, bonus? The same teacher does the second semester Shakespeare in Modern Film class, also known as the one where I get Bardfilm to do my kid’s homework.
Well tonight was open house where we got to meet the teachers. Look what greeted me in Monsters and British Lit?
Oh, yeah. We’re gonna have a good time with this class.
The class will cover Beowulf and Frankenstein as well as Caliban. The teacher made it a point to mention that she’d recently seen The Tempest at the Globe, and how she just loves being “the Shakespeare teacher.”
I introduced myself briefly – “My daughter’s been raised on Shakespeare. I read The Tempest to them as a bed time story. I think we’re gonna love this class.” I knew I could have talked her ear off. I had pictures of my kids in the Folger vault loaded up and ready to go on my phone. I showed great discipline, I want everybody to know!
I hope to have very many exciting stories in the upcoming year. It’s been a long time coming! A fine fine day indeed.
Are you familiar with the service IFTTT, short for “If This Then That”? I’ve been using it for years to automate large parts of my online life. You understand how the concept of a “push notification” works on your phone, right? Some event happens, and you are alerted to that fact. Maybe the football game is over and you want to know the score. Maybe you got a text from a person on a particular favorites list.
What IFTTT does is extracts that out to a web service so it’s not limited to your phone, and the possibilities are endless. You can say things like “When the weather service says it’s going to rain tomorrow, text me to remember my umbrella” or “Every time I connect or disconnect from the car bluetooth, add a row to a Google spreadsheet” (so I can track my commute times).
Where’s the Shakespeare, you ask? I’m getting to that part.
It got started when I realised you could change a lamp post into a public swingball, and then that you could make that into a rhythmic game about iambic pentameter, and we could get people to say the text in public, if they were playing swingball.
That’s Anton Hecht, creator of the game. Sorry, “community-based game and public art experience.” When I saw the Reddit video I thought it was more about the challenge of having memorized a particular sonnet and having to recall it. But as the article shows, the words and meter are actually written down and posted on the pole so you can read at the same time (which definitely implies that somebody has to start with some knowledge of the subject!). It’s more about saying it out loud, and we all know the importance of that. Every time somebody asks about memorizing Shakespeare the first bit of advice that comes up is, “Say it out loud.”
I have to admit I kind of love the idea of randomly walking down the street and hearing people reciting Shakespeare while playing a game. What was it Caliban told us? Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Who’s to say that doesn’t apply equally to just walking down the street and taking in the ambient sounds around you?
I’m kind of wondering if Mr. Hecht is googling for references and might stop by. I don’t know that I’ve seen swingball very much in the US and I’m wondering if it’s primarily a European thing? Then again a game where you throw a beanbag at a slanted piece of wood with a hole in it (“cornhole”) is insanely popular here, so what do I know about what games people are playing and why?
So if anybody’s reading this anywhere in the world and saying to themselves, “I was wondering how we could breathe new life into our swingball set,” here’s your chance! Take it on the road. As the creator says, make it a public art experience. Don’t keep the Shakespeare in your back yard, share it with the world.
I love that my kids are in high school now and I still get to tell Shakespeare geeklet stories.
For some reason the story has come up of when my middle daughter, who is starting her freshman year at private school, went through the interview / application process. In particular her older sister likes to remind her that when asked what grade she would give the school, she gave a realistic 8 out of 10.
“Obviously,” says my oldest, who is a junior at this school, “You tell them 10 out of 10. That’s what they want to hear.”
“Who are you, King Richard III?” my son asks.
That one gives me pause. “Love the reference,” I tell him, “But do you want to explain what that has to do with Richard III?”
“Because you just tell them what they want to hear, so you get what you want. Like the evil daughters.”