One of the two courses I’m teaching winter quarter.
English 214: Introduction to Shakespeare: Page and Stage
To study Shakespeare is to study ourselves. Our language is full of his turns of phrase. His drama informs our drama, our cinema, and our TV shows, from South Park to Game of Thrones to Westworld. We’re going to explore just how current Shakespeare is by putting his plays into action – sometimes from the page (in ear and mind), sometimes on the stage (for eye and ear). Which brings us to the fine print. And it’s important enough to start with some big print. PLEASE TAKE NOTE. This is not your usual GUR. There will be no lectures. There will be no midterm exam. There will be no final exam. There will be a whole lot of discussion; writing, memorization, and recitation assignments; blocking projects; scansion quizzes; and a group performance project worth a big fat chunk of your grade. You’ll be asked to memorize a part and to perform, in character, in front of your peers, although acting ability is not a prerequisite. Do not sign up for this course if you’re not ready to attend every class and to participate actively in all aspects of our work together. If you are so ready, we should have a lot of fun. Our plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Othello, The Tempest.
The image up top, Djimon Hounsou’s Caliban, in Julie Taymor’s 2010 film of The Tempest. A performance of real dignity and power – Caliban enslaved, not a slave. And it can’t not touch on (press damned hard on, actually) the subjugation of the black body, African, American, by such as Prospero are.
By such as prosper. My hope’s to talk with them about that some.
The class went well last time round. Went great, actually. By the end the group was an organic form, a living animal, thriving under its own power, and mostly I could just attend.
My favourite comment in the evals, Shakespearean in its wit: This class was lit.
What made me think to redesign two courses, poetry workshop, Shakespeare intro, at the same time? I sniffle this at the tail end of a 60 hour week, on my way into another, having calced that, when I work I mere 40 hour week, I earn what I would serving burgers in SeaTac, where a sane minimum wage is on offer. Last week, and this, more like $10 an hour. It’s good I love what I do.
And I do. Above’s not what I sat me down to whine. Sat down rather with this.
Was slipping across campus, fat binder in hand, full of matter I spent days compiling for a teaching award I am, for reals, honoured to be considered for. That compiling said matter for consideration is exhausting depleting and ironic is no one person’s fault and goes some way to explaining abstractions like Patriarchy and The Man.
Was gliding across campus, one student evaluation in there heavier than all the others, it called my course asinine and me moronic. Now I’m insecure about a lot but smart ain’t on the list. (About the only thing not on the list? Uh oh.) But that someone was harbouring that much hate and I didn’t know – K that hurt.
Friend teachers, you know this, right? A hundred evals, ten adoring, thirty really fond of you, thirty more are favourable, twenty-five more are various flavours of meh, and five kinda somewhat negative, and one of those over-the-top hostile. Which one stays with you? Which do you have conversations with in the 3 am? Way to get my attention.
All this is to say, I’m lugging this fat portfolio to the office where I need to drop it, and I run into A., a former student, and we say a happy hi. She says, you look exhausted, I say, that’s funny, I am exhausted. I ask how she is. She says not so hot. I say what’s up. She tells me what’s up, a bit. I say, are you getting some help. She says she is. I say, come by and talk, and we make a plan for her to.
A couple hours later, I remember talking to my chair, about a senior colleague poaching my classroom, in a way that felt, I’ll use the word uncollegial. And K., my chair, getting it and asking, how can I help, and me saying and I really meant it – the help I need, you’re giving by hearing me.
Brushed my mind, remembering that, maybe I might have been something like that, a little, for this kid. Why do I give a flying fuck about evaluations.
They’re momentary gestures of mind, captured freeze-dried and framed.
I teach a poetics of the moment. I’m testing a pedagogy of the moment. What would be an institution of the moment? Anarchy, probably.
Anyway, I dropped off my fat gelid binder of congealed impressions, and back on the same walkway, happily met two current poetry students, both smart and talented, one quiet and very keen, one confident and a bit slacker, and we chatted a couple minutes about John Taggart’s “Rothko Chapel Poem,” which, ahem, at least the second hadn’t started, but still I came away thinking, you guys are why I do this.
An award would be nice. Won’t get it but that’s beside the point. Only connect. It keeps recurring in Tom Phillips’s A Humument and while superficially it’s a shout-out to Forster I think more truly it’s a distillation of all that’s holy in the English literary tradition, worthy of salvage. I find it writ large in Taggart –
To love to love those to love those who
are in to love those who are in a condition
in a condition
of hiding to love those who are in
a condition of hiding to
love those as children as the
valiant children who have gone into hiding
children who hide in a house from the roaring.
Care touches the face, untwists the face. (“Peace on Earth”)
and even crosswise in Malvolio, the poor sod. We’re bound to misunderstand each other. Is that what his cross-gartering means. I thank him either way for saying so.
I was having trouble finding an image for topside. Liked this I found in Jacket 2 but it felt in the wrong key for the post –
Decided, blogger of the mo, to just plug in a phrase from Taggart, “care touches the face,” and use something from the first screen of image results.
Oh my fucking dear.
Want to try it? Try “care touches the face” as an exact search string, w/ quotation marks, see how much comes up, how much care we have for this great man and his work. (I got 3 images.)
Now try ‘care touches the face’ without quotation marks. What great care we have for skin care products, deathlessness, commerce, sex, and the pubic triangle one of those sits at the centre of.
I got lucky (“got lucky”), the latter search, specs set to large image, got me to this somewhat earnest site, God love ’em. Gotta go teach tomorrow, g’night.
Tomorrow is the memorial for a favourite teacher, Dougal Fraser, up in Vancouver, and I’m not going to make it, having been laid low with bronchitis and a slipped disk (yes one can cough that hard), so I’ll post here the remarks I’d thought to make there.
Mostly I want to say that Dougal helped instil in me a love of poetry that will last me my life long. And that’s a comfort I thank him for. And so I thought I’d read a few bits of poetry that came to mind when the invitation came to speak today.
One speaks to my sense of something dark or even tragic in his seeing. Because it’s hard being a person, it just is, and he knew it, and he wanted us to enter the world not ignorant of the fact.
This is from the Old English poem “The Seafarer.” The speaker is saying why he prefers a life of restless wandering at sea to one of easy complacency on land. And today I hear in his words a case for a life of restless wandering in mind.
The Old English poem, the bit I have in mind, looks like this
Always, for each, one of three things
near the end has thrown all in doubt:
illness, old age, or rage of the sword
wrests life from all who must, fated
to die, go forth. The best word-trace
a man may leave is the praise of those
who live to speak afterward: how he
brought to pass, before he went on,
good works on earth against evil,
daring acts to confound the devil,
the children of men praise him after,
that praise resounds forever and ever
among angels, the glory of eternal life,
joy in the host of heaven. Those days
of majesty on earth have passed now
though, there are no kings or caesars
or goldgivers like there once were,
performing the most glorious deeds
and living in lordly renown. Fallen
that company and past those joys.
Dougal was also, as all who knew him know, a reservoir of joy, and irreverent unto high iconoclasm, by which I mean a great clown, a clown of greatness. So Shakespeare’s Falstaff comes too to mind — the one whose wit’s so sharp it might skewer not just kings but kingship. Here he is on the verge of undoing the whole code of manhood and warmongering.
How then? Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word ‘honour’? What is that ‘honour’? Air. A trim reckoning. Who hath it? He that died o’Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But it will not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.
Scutcheon: decorative heraldic panel. That his agenda’s mostly selfish just sweetens the dish.
I didn’t come to either of these works in my studies with Dougal — only later. As a last taste, one bit from something we did read together in Brit Lit 12, whose magnificent rhythms made it through my thick intemperate skin somehow. This from 1 Corinthians 13:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Dougal, I don’t know who you are seeing face to face right now — maybe a heavenly host, maybe a diet of worms — but I hope you are having a good laugh together. You were brilliant and fickle and kind and mean in the best imaginable way and one of the most fully human beings it has been my good fortune to know.