Monday, October 1, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Teaching Shakespeare

As she did with the Greeks, Krause sent me an envelope of notecards about teaching Shakespeare. (Actually, they were 3 x 6ish cards advertising the final season of her Playhouse at Eagles Mere--1963, I think. She wrote on the blank back side.)

The Notecards
Begin with the language, the verse. Nothing strange in the iambic pentameter -- it's a basic English rhythm --
Through his use of meter and language he delineates character. Your cues to character are in the verse. Learn to read it for clues.
Read to them lines from Friar Laurence -- emphasize the trite rhymed couplets -- light, night etc.
Ask them what kind of person would speak so tritely -- Emphasize the extreme regularity of the iambic line -- What cue to character do you have -- If you were impersonating him, what characteristics creep out (Pick a few herbs to accompany the lines) dead serious trite to dah to dah to dah -- Now what do you know about his part in the tragedy --
Shakespeare delineates through his verse.

2. Titania -- usually played as a lovely, delicate little fairy. Read These are the forgeries of jealousy -- let it spit & hiss -- There is not a pretty sound in it. Cues to character & role in the drama.

Perhaps compare with Oberon's Once upon a promontory --

Read some of Lady Macbeth's utterly prosy lines "My hands are of your color" to compare with Macbeth's  "All the multitudinous seas incarnadine"

Perhaps Mercutio
Do just a few lines -- enough to get students fascinated with the language verse -- Point out the infinite variety in the blank verse --

Brutus -- sustained, regular, etc.
Marc Antony -- brilliant rhetoric
Cassius -- cutting --

Make them aware of the effect words have by sound alone.

Point out iambic pentameter is natural speech. We fall into it -- or wish we could -- at moments of depth.

Point out the difference in long & short sounds
To be or -- long, sustained
"O then I see Queen Mab" -- prevailing short with long to create the magic of his mind.

Assign significant speeches which they will enjoy --
Mercutio "Queen Mab" --
Puck --
Titania --
Cleopatra (I dreamed there was) --
Macbeth  ("Tomorrow" or "Is this a dagger") --
Juliet -- "Gallop apace"
John of Gaunt --
Richard II --
Opening of Richard III
(Always ask them to tell what character traits they discovered from the verse)

Read Granville Barker Prefaces -- Use them freely -- Never hesitate to borrow ideas in the beginning. They will become your own as you use them -- Assimilate -- use -- Maybe there are still copies of the lists of speeches I used for these first 2 weeks. If not make out one of your own -- don't be afraid to use your own favorite passages! -- In the beginning do what you know you can do well. Then grow -- stretch -- reach -- -- --

Point out Shakespeare uses prose for Rosalind & Orlando in the beginning. But what prose! It's Shavian. What do you know about Rosalind's mind? Her wit, her humor, her enchantment?

Point out the commonplace language of rustics, citizens -- the literal, unpoetic, absence of imagery -- Give some time to rustics of Midsummer -- Porter of Macbeth -- Grave diggers -- through their language you know them -- Have fun with them -- then turn to Hamlet -- Macbeth
Do the ones you know best.


At the end of a journal entry, she wrote this.

Journal Note
Swordplay --
Long full skirts & many petticoats to be lifted up as one runs, kicked out of the way.
Astonishment -- a ship from China
Bait the bear
Dance the Elizabethan dances
Sing with Feste
play tricks on Malvolio

A glorious age!

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