“The Winter’s Tale” is a play by William Shakespeare, written in 1610-1611. The story is set in two contrasting worlds: the winter kingdom of Sicilia and the spring-like world of Bohemia. King Leontes of Sicilia wrongly suspects his wife, Queen Hermione, of having an affair with his friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia. This leads to a series of tragic events, including the death of their son, the imprisonment of Hermione, and the abandonment of their newborn daughter. However, in the end, justice is served, and the play concludes with the miraculous reunion of the family and the restoration of order and harmony.
Here’s a simple game. Pick a play. Now pretend you’re doing a production where the gimmick is that it’s told from a different character’s point of view than normal. Which play do you pick, which character and how does the play change?
In most cases, this is going to create a much shorter play, because the character you pick will often have less stage time than the stars.
Maybe we do The Tempest told from the perspective of King Alonso? Coming home from a wedding he’s caught in a storm, shipwrecked on an island, his son drowned. Suddenly he’s standing face to face with Prospero, who he’s thought dead for the past fifteen years.
Or how about King Lear from Fool’s point of view? That could be interesting. Lot of different ways to interpret just how much Fool knows.
Twelfth Night from Malvolio’s POV?
Romeo and Juliet as seen by Lord Capulet? That could be interesting. There’s an almost fight scene, there’s him getting fined by the Prince, there’s a wedding to plan, a big dance party, an argument with his daughter, the death of Tybalt, the death of Juliet…
Winter’s Tale from Hermione’s point of view would make a funny comic short. Gets accused of adultery by her husband, goes to live with her friend who promises to fix everything. Cut to twelve years later when she says, “ok, he’s coming. Pretend you’re a statue.”
Be me, on a typical school day, bustling around getting the kids breakfast as they get ready for school. My middle announces, “Did I tell you my Shakespeare story?”
Everything stops, of course. Well, more to the point everything I’m doing stops, while my wife kind of gives me the, “Seriously?” look since stuff’s still got to get done.
“Do tell,” I reply. “The very fact that you brought it up means this is going to be a blog post.”
“Ok,” she says, putting down her spoon. “Well, my friends and I the other day are talking, and somehow Shakespeare comes up, you know.”
“Sure, sure. I know the feeling.”
“And then my friend is all,” cue dripping fawning voice, “Oh, I *love* Shakespeare, I just *love* Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer’s Night’s Dream!” At this point she switches to brainy smirk, rolls up her sleeves, and begins. “Well, I said to her, do you know Othello? Hmm? How about Winter’s Tale? Or Titus Androkinus?”
My oldest and I exchange a glance and a laugh at that one. Middle continues, “Have *you* ever read the one where the husband bakes his wife into a pie? Hmmm???”
“Wait, what?” I ask.
“That’s Cleopatra,” says my oldest.
“Wait, WHAT?” I ask.
“Isn’t there one about Cleopatra and her husband?”
“Antony and Cleopatra, yes?”
“Isn’t that the one she’s talking about?”
It’s funny how sometimes the facts get garbled. I explain that Titus baked the sons of his enemy into a pie. I still have no idea where they got baking his wife – nor the connection with Antony and Cleopatra.
No, that’s not a Winter’s Tale reference. That’s a Harry Potter reference. Psych. 🙂
So once again my oldest has an actual Shakespeare class, and once again it’s not really living up to what we’d hoped.
They’ve started The Tempest. Here’s my daughter’s (roughly paraphrased) summary of the first day:
We did Act One, Scene one. It’s frustrating, because she asked us no questions. Zero. I’m sitting there, waiting for this, I know the answers. I’m dying to say Sycorax, I love that name. But she didn’t interact with us, she just told us what happens.
That makes me sad. I once wrote an entire blog post about that scene, and how awesome the boatswain is. So let’s talk about the situation this teacher finds herself in.
I’m sure that teacher has to assume that there’s zero amount of Shakespeare knowledge in that class. It would be a waste of time for her in most classes to ask a question like, “Is anybody familiar with The Tempest?” because 9 times out of 10 she’s going to get blank stares and silence. So why bother?
Because in this instance she would have gotten an answer. My daughter’s hand would go up. As it would with every question (hence the Hermione reference). She could assistant teach that class.
She’s not trying to be a teacher’s pet. On the contrary, she’s generally an introvert who will avoid answering questions because she feels that for her to answer it is to not give others a chance. But to not even have the question asked? That seems like an opportunity missed. It would not be a lie to say that she’s been waiting years for opportunities like that.
Maybe the teacher knows that. She’s well aware of my daughter’s experience with Shakespeare already. I know because I’ve also had that conversation with her. So I figure one of two things must be going through her head:
a) she’s completely forgotten, or just generally disregarded, the knowledge that she’s actually got someone in class this time that knows the material. She’s got a plan, it does not assume a Hermione in the class, why change the plan?
b) she’s deliberately not singling her out to keep balance in the classroom, and not elevate my daughter into some sort of favorite. Maybe she’s even doing that for what she believes will be my daughter’s benefit, so that the others don’t see it as a negative (i.e. teacher’s pet syndrome)
My problem is that I see it as the opposite. Let’s pretend for a moment that there’s more than one kid in that class that already knows the material. Or at least would be willing to hazard a guess at some questions. And all of them are afraid to be the first one to raise their hand. Doesn’t it make sense that if you know you’ve got a student who isn’t afraid to raise her hand, and knows the answer, that you should do that? That maybe it would help bring the other kids out of their shells? Maybe there’s kids in that class that would hear my daughter rave about how awesome Shakespeare is, how she’s known about it since she was little, and maybe they switch from “I’ve always heard that this stuff is boring and irrelevant” to “One of my peers is telling me that it’s interesting and not that hard, maybe I should listen to her.”
Teachers, help me out here. I’m trying to read somebody’s mind, and maybe I’m way off. It doesn’t matter the particular material. Say that you’re in the out of the ordinary situation where you know you’ve got at least one student in the class that knows the material ahead of the rest. How do you handle that? Take advantage and try to use that kid to draw out the others? Or treat everybody the same? Why?
(In fairness I should acknowledge that there’s an option (c), namely, that this class is about monsters in British literature and thus they are studying Caliban specifically, not the play as a whole. So, since scene one really has nothing to do with Caliban, she glossed over it. I mean personally I still disagree, because I think that kicking off the story in an exciting way rather than a blah blah blah way is important if you want to keep the kids’ attention, but what can ya do. There are calendar time restrictions, and material to get through.)
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The series, which covers the fascinating history behind Shakespeare’s greatest plays, will feature six installments hosted by celebrated names such as Helen Hunt, F. Murray Abraham, Romola Garai, Brian Cox, Simon Russell Beale,and Sir Antony Sher.
Each episode will tell the stories behind the stories of Shakespeare’s famous works and will investigate “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Measure for Measure,” “Julius Caesar,” “The Winter’s Tale,” and “Richard III.”
The show will air Fridays, October 12-26 on PBS (check local listings) and stream the following day at pbs.org/shakespeareuncovered and on PBS apps.