All Things Maya and William: Engaging Adolescents with a “Dead, White, Male Poet”
Last modified: March 13, 2007
Presentation date: 07/19/2007 2:35 PM in Coast Hotel Gilford Room
Say Shakespeare and what comes to mind? Someone with the “correct” King’s or Queen’s English? Male? Almost dead? Wearing tweed, smoking a pipe, and teaching in Oxford or Cambridge? Or, for the high school teacher, the challenge of facing all those adolescents who groan complaints such as, “This stuff is too hard, too boring,” peppered with, “Can’t we see just the movie instead?” Add to the mix the voices of those educators who insist Shakespeare is really just another “dead, white, male poet” whose hierarchical worldview, gender, race, and sheer distance in time probably preclude his relevance for many students now, and teachers might wonder to what extent we should bring Shakespeare to the classroom. Is it really fair to try to teach Shakespeare to students who are neither white nor male, for example, and are for these and other reasons asked to negotiate vast linguistic and cultural gaps to doubtful ends? Does the old poet have anything to say to someone today who, say, is black, female, poor, and has been raped?
Too often the teaching of literature can become an exercise in what one literature student calls “splicing” the text: a relentless drill in intellectual diagnosis and apparent but narrow mastery of the text rather than the fully engaged human experience that literature potentially offers. In this workshop we will practise imaginative engagement with Shakespearean text that addresses these concerns. I will draw upon my experience of Maya Angelou speaking of the transformative impact that Sonnet 29 had on her life, including a dramatic reading of the sonnet in the persona of Maya. We will discuss and practise teaching ideas, both written and drama exercises, that are intended to foster the sort of “combustion” that Maya Angelou experienced with Shakespeare. The emphasis will be on how to engage students with Shakespearean text so that the classroom can become “all things Maya (substitute one’s own name) and William,” truly
a place where students can investigate Shakespeare with increasing confidence and interest.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Lewis, C.S. Experiment in Criticism.
Murray, Donald M. Write to Learn.
Shakespeare, William. “When, In Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes.”
---. A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Tchudi, Stephen and Diana Mitchell. Exploring and Teaching the English Language Arts.