Monday, January 23, 2017

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: In Learning, Language, Life and Love


Shakespeare's power of imagination was as fertile as that of any man known to history, but he had another power which is quite rare in the high tech, fast-paced world of today:  the power of absorbing or assimilating the fruits of reading.  Spenser, Milton, Burns, Keats, and Tennyson had a like power, but probably none had it to quite the same degree as Shakespeare.  In his case, as in the case of the other poets, this power of assimilation strengthened and rendered more robust the productive power of his imagination.


Shakespeare's readers can find themselves caught in a series of implicit choices where, for example, a particular wording or phrasing may correspond to a specific stylistic effect, which is used by the author to persuade the audience.  All of Shakespeare's plays draw on the resources of rhetoric, which is not considered as a mere method of composition, but also a tool to experiment with language. Linguistically, Shakespeare's manipulation of language serves to construct characters, conflicts, and themes.  As readers of his texts and audience members of his plays, we are challenged to analyze Shakespeare's choices at the levels of word and phrase, and at a more abstract, figurative level, specifically in relation to how those word and phrase choices reveal power or powerlessness.  In this regard, we focus on sound devices, such as alliteration and onomatopoetic phrasing, a range of metaphoric usage--chiefly metaphor, imagery, and symbolism.  Technically, we complete a simple analysis of metrical features, such as iambic meter, rhythm and rhyme.  Through the study of Shakespeare's works, we can draw clear connections between the meaning elicited from a text and how Shakespeare went about creating that meaning stylistically.


Shakespeare never goes stale.  And there are good reasons for that.  Through the years, Odyssey scholars have studied the plays of A Midsummer Nights Dream, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet.  As your experience with Shakespeare's texts expand, so does your understanding and appreciation of the author's work and its connections to life.  Shakespeare has been done and redone hundreds of times in settings as varied in time and place as one can imagine.  Shakespeare had a profound understanding of human kind: our struggles, our desires, our hopes and fears.  These common sufferings and triumphs connect the characters on his stage with those people we meet in real life.  This is what it means to be universal.  No matter how old we are, where we live, or in what time, all boundaries can fade to nothing in a tale of Shakespeare.  As the characters fall in love, so do we; as they grow enraged at injustice, so do we; as they are overcome with jealousy or humiliation, we blush crimson right along with them.  The brilliance of Shakespeare comes through his mastery of the mechanics of the English language to elaborate on his intrinsic knowledge of the human psyche.


Each year, the English Speaking Union invites students and their teachers/directors who share a love and enthusiasm for the Great Bard to participate in their National Shakespeare Competition.  It all starts in the classroom.  Schools all over the country conduct in house, school wide Shakespeare competitions in which scholars present a memorized monologue of no more than twenty lines.  After the school selects a winner, they are sent along with other scholars across their state, to compete at the branch level.  This time, they present their monologue and one of Shakespeare's sonnets.

The lucky scholar selected at the branch level is then flown out for a week long trip to New York
City, where they are dined, entertained, and have the opportunity to mingle with other branch winners and students of the infamous Julliard School.  The grand finale, however, is that each student gets to perform his/her monologue, sonnet and a cold read on the stage at Lincoln Center in the National competition.  The competition is stiff.  Every scholar brings with him or her a uniquely brilliant interpretation of a beloved work.  The judges no doubt agonize over their decision, but only one lucky scholar will be chosen as the grand prize winner.  This scholar will win an all expenses paid trip in the summer to study at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. A second place scholar at competition will earn an all expenses paid trip to study Shakespeare with other classical actors in Staunton, Virginia, including tuition, transportation, food, and accommodations.  The third place scholar wins a $500 scholarship from The Shakespeare Society of New York City.

We will enjoy watching the winning performance of 2016 in class.  But for our blog post assignment this week, we will watch an inspirational educational video by the creators and actors of the Oscar award winning film, Shakespeare in Love.  I promise, you will enjoy it!  It is about 45 minutes in length, so allow for some time to put your feet up, brew some tea or hot chocolate, and enjoy!  (There are two possible links--they are both the same.)  It looks at the life and art of William Shakespeare through the lens of his play, Romeo and Juliet.  For your post, please comment on the story, what you learned and anything specific that impressed you, and then see how it all comes together at the end:  summary, poetry and then...the color!  I promise, it will be worth the time...for, as we know, "Never was a story of more woe than that of Juliet and her Romeo..."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Today's generation.  The Millennials.  "Worst generation ever."  "The ME ME ME Generation." There are many commentaries on those born from mid-80s to 2000, and frankly, none of them are very positive.  Honestly?  As a parent of three millennials, myself, I find it very disconcerting and I don't like it.

There is a lot that goes into "creating" or "molding" a generation of people:  Their parenting, their environment,  their education and coaching and training.  I would say that if we put down a generation for their failures or lack of "gumption," we really need to point that finger back at all of ourselves.

Whether you are happy or disgusted with our most recent election results, it definitely put a big
mirror up to all of us:  who we are, where we are going, and how we cope with it all. Universities called off classes and set up cry rooms.  People took to the streets and vandalized and looted businesses.  Others refused to accept the results or the new president even before inauguration because it was not what they personally wanted.  But I would ask the question: what does that say about us?  I was taught growing up that learning to lose gracefully is one of the biggest lessons to be learned about winning.  But in a society where participation trophies are awarded whether you win or lose; in a society where you are told you are special, in general--with no specifics--just "you are special"; in a society where so many of us fear giving any form of constructive criticism because it may hurt someone's feelings, what are we really accomplishing?  Who is really responsible for the negative qualities we point out in this generation, and what are we doing about it in the business/corporate environment, or otherwise known as "the real" world?

A video of an interview with Simon Sinek was sent to me by a friend recently, and honestly, I believe it really nails the Millennial "problem."  Instead of whining and complaining about the next generation, it offers an explanation for how it all came to be and a possible solution.  I have often told many of you that while it was harder, I am so grateful to have grown up in a society before cell phones and computers.  You know what?  I was surprised that many of you told me that you wished you had, too!  That makes me sad.  It is not ANY generations' fault what time or environment they are brought into!  Frankly, it is more the fault of those who bring up that generation: what sort of boundaries are we creating?  What sort of guidance and teaching are we offering?  What example are we setting?  Do we allow our kids to experience the agony of defeat from time to time, or do we rescue them?  Do we put limits on their technology access and use, or do we just give up and let them use their technology to keep themselves busy and out of our way?  Do we teach our kids that learning and growing involves making mistakes and seeking out constructive criticism for ways to improve, or do we just give them a blanket "you're special and perfect?" Do we offer, instead, specific praise for their gifts and acknowledgement for what they really do well, and advice for areas in which they can improve?

I would love to get YOUR feedback.  Where do you see a need for personal growth?  What are your goals?  What do you think you do well....specifically?  Who are the classmates you admire, and for what?  THIS is where it starts.  I want to say as a member of the previous generation, I am sorry for the ways that WE have failed YOU.  We all need to work together to make this world a place we can all learn, grow, fall down, and get back up again in...a place where we can learn to interact with each other, to endure awkwardness, and to find time to just think and create and be innovators!  What a great goal for 2017!

Please watch this video all the way through, and give your feedback, as well.  I look forward to your posts!
1.  Where do you see a need for personal growth?
2.  What are your goals?
3.  What do you do especially well?
4.  Who are 1-3 classmates you admire, and why?
5.  Reaction to video...what hit you, what felt true, why?

I think we can make millennials a truly GREAT generation that can climb the mountains of challenge willingly, with true grit, and bring a lot of bright innovation into the world!!

Video Link: