Shakespeare, Pedagogical Pragmatism, and Student Research

 

Unsurprisingly, many undergraduates do not know the difference between Anglo-Saxon and early modern English. I once overheard a student say that she refused to take Shakespeare because she didn’t understand “that old English stuff.” Her comment made me unhappy, not because she was misinformed and uninterested, but more because it reflected the trend of U.S. English departments to offer and require fewer and fewer courses before the nineteenth century. Even when they are available, students enroll as a last resort and hope to pass, at best, because they believe they cannot understand the literature, at even a basic plot level. My job is not threatened by the lack of undergraduate interest in the early modern period, but one of my basic goals is to help students recognize and believe that people have existed in other times and other places, and that they are worth knowing about, even if they speak, look, and act very different. As liberal humanist as it sounds, I want them to have the pleasure of a whole new and cool alternate reality, waiting out there for them, just four hundred years old. It seems there is a growing gap between the Renaissance and now, and with every year that passes, Shakespeare becomes more foreign to students. However, if you can win them over during the first two weeks of class, many students will invest heavily in early modern studies when they realize there is more to literature than dates, symbolism, themes, and rhyme schemes, as important as those things may be.

 

I had been teaching Shakespeare for some time when I wrote my first Shakespeare and pedagogy article. In spite of its curricular, the accompanying research project was not similarly innovative As time went on, I became increasingly frustrated with the traditional ten page paper that all English professors feel obligated to assign to undergraduates. My students and I were all bored with the same tired topics that seem to grow from Shakespeare courses which are based on a feminist, cultural materialist perspective. There was an endless stream of papers on Shakespeare’s strong female characters, the patriarchal nature of early modern England, marriage, wife abuse, etc. Students continued to use inappropriate, useless, or ancient sources, anything that “might” meet my source requirements, instead of looking for information that they could actually learn from. This happened even after I began to assign research proposals which required a project description, a research plan, a list of class members working on similar projects, and an annotated bibliography. The bottom line is that students were not invested in a kind of work of which they did variations in almost every literature course. In addition, another problem with the traditional assignment was that because of Shakespeare’s cultural and thus curricular dominance, there were numberless papers for students to beg, buy, or downright plagiarize, and I have never been one of those people who behave as if finding a student plagiarist is the equivalent of breaking the code of an international drug cartel worth millions of dollars. Frankly, I have many better things to do with my time.

These are the less positive reasons I decided to develop a new research project that would still require students to demonstrate their understanding of the stylistic conventions of upper division writing and the attendant research skills. I also wanted an engaging project that would give students a chance to see how interesting the early modern period is. The project that resulted asked students take any Shakespeare play(s), character(s), issue(s), or any combination of the above and develop rhetorical strategies based on 21 st century discursive formats that would help our world to understand Shakespeare, but one that would still preserve early modern cultural logic. However, before students can even begin thinking about their projects, they have to understand some of the basic principles of New Historicism. Belsey, Howard, Wilson, etc., introduce them to the post modern problems of history, narrative, identity, interpretation, and meaning. In addition, New Historicism’s basic position that we cannot recapture or reproduce what it meant to live in Shakespeare’s world requires us to use cultural artifacts such as literature, domestic conduct texts, speeches by Elizabeth I and James I, Leo Africanus’ Geographical History of Africa, popular news pamphlets, for example, Two Horrible and Inhumane Murders, and descriptions of food, fashion, and medicine, in order to make that connect, to create meaning and articulate it. Students begin to see how perspective might be historically and culturally determined by reading “Shakespeare in the Bush” (Bohannan). They start to doubt that history is a record of steady progress by reading a short history of plumbing and human waste disposal, from hot and cold running water in ancient Egypt to early modern England where chamber pots were dumped out the windows, and Queen Elizabeth refused to use the “newly invented” toilet because it smelled! They realize that literature has been an integral part of the production of social institutions and values, rather than simply a reflector of them by reading Punch and Judy excerpts, A Mery Jest, and a plot summary of The Taming of the Shrew (Dolan). It is also crucially important to spend adequate time teaching students how to literally read Shakespeare by using a basic text like Simply Shakespeare, plus lots of in class reading time. They learn that ignoring punctuation makes it almost impossible to understand Shakespeare’s basic syntax and meaning. We also watch film adaptations, not BBC recorded stage plays, but performances that were designed specifically to get audiences to the theater, to sell tickets, just as Shakespeare’s texts were.We also read Linda Fitz’s “‘What Says the Married Woman?’ Marriage Theory and Feminism in the English Renaissance” and Lynda Boose’ “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s Unruly Member,” both of which prepare students to read sources in collections such as the Bedford Companion to Shakespeare, or Kate Aughterson’s The Renaissance Woman, as well as from a packet I compiled from microfilm texts taken from Pollard and Redgrave’s Short Title Catalog. The semester continues with plays and primary texts.

 

I introduce the research project early in the semester, with a written description:

People sometimes have trouble reading and understanding Shakespeare, partly because, we can only find meaning in a text that makes sense to our own context, or place in time and space (Belsey). For example, our culture is not as interested in or competent at textual literacy as it once was, but we have gained other forms of literacy, such as visual and technological literacy. All literacies are historically specific and have conventions and forms, or what can be called discursive formats, that they use to create dialogue or script. One way to translate a past literacy into one more familiar is to change the mode of discourse. This is just another way of saying, if you want to communicate with someone, you have to speak their language.

 

Your research goal is notto demonstrate the universality of Shakespeare or prove that his plays transcend time and have meaning for all people in all places. This project will receive a failing grade. Instead, I am asking you to translate one form of discourse into another, to find ways to communicate Shakespeare and early modern England by using a current cultural form more familiar to the 21st century, in order to create a bridge of meaning from past to present.

 

At first, many students are confused, if not downright panicked, because most of them have mastered a formula for pumping out ten page research papers. I believe, that in an effort to manage their anxiety, they often misinterpret the assignment by falling back on the traditional Humanist perception of Shakespeare as the genius author of universal, ahistorical literature. However, as we return to New Historicism’s basic principles, and I remind them that such paper is a guaranteed F, they give it up rather quickly. The assignment requires the preservation an early modern context, i.e. they can’t have Juliet just decide to give up men altogether, go to college, and have a junior year lesbian experience; however, students can choose any medium to work in, from script writing, to episodes of daytime TV, legal cases, newspapers, journals, music, art, electronic or digital projects, almost anything they can think of. I have seldom (if ever) said no to a student’s initial project idea because their proposals will reveal that some ideas just do not work out, which works much better than me just saying no, which usually is not effective pedagogy. The projects must include current criticism, cultural background reading, and primary sources to support the project’s rationale and playing out of the idea. My biggest challenge is to get students to take that first leap of faith into the unknown. One way of encouraging them is by emphasizing the assignment’s almost absolute freedom of combination/choice and lack of constraints. For example, in the reflection that must conclude all projects, one student justified her focus on Friar Lawrence by saying, “I chose not to write about Romeo and Juliet . . . because I’m tired of hearing about them. I thought it would be interesting to look at an alternative important character from the play” (Miki Aberle). Students are encouraged to listen to the constant echoing between Shakespeare’s plots, themes, characters, even lines that they will hear if they listen closely. As they consider how to productively recombine and re-present what most interests them in the period, they are thus allowed to forego linear narrative. I try to show them a vision of Shakespearean text unconstrained, as multiple and diverse combinations, rather than discreet units of dialogue and character. Some students even seem to apply this openness to their own identities or at least those they reveal in class. Each semester, I am amazed by a student who has not said squat all semester, who suddenly, s/he turns in a well thought out, well executed, and strong project that depends on either a persona the student has not revealed in class, or on skills I was completely unaware s/he had.

 

As the semester goes on, more and more of our energy is directed to the projects. The proposal stage begins with each student describing their ideas which we spend a day discussing. Everyone is encouraged to make suggestions and comments, ask questions, and record each person’s name and ideas so that they can locate each other as their work progresses or perhaps changes. Students form research teams based on similar interests, topics, ideas, or formats, which makes them each others immediate resource, whether they are having a problem or just need to locate a checked out library book. I also talk to them about efficiency: if three people are using similar sources, they can meet at the library, divide up the list, and collate their findings, which is not cheating, but is the way that most people write in the non-academic world. I remind them that if they do a careful, complete proposal, a large portion of their research will be done. Students may also realize, while there is still time, that their idea is not going to work out or that their sources have redirected their project to a new and better idea than the first. The proposal is no guarantee of an effective research project, but it considerably raises the possibility of one. If students turn in useless sources, vague descriptions and unclear ideas of their research agenda, they will suffer the consequences. However, some students figured out early on research’s actual function: “I was much more picky about my research because I had specific ideas in my mind for my project, and in a paper, I never would have really cared.” This same proposal was required in my traditional research project, but the results were not nearly as successful because essentially, the students had zero interest in the research or the paper, as opposed to a more recent student’s feelings: “I found myself reading parts of sources that I found I couldn’t use because they were interesting. If you were really trying, not just doing things to get a grade, you felt disappointed with your project because it could not reflect even a portion of the things you had learned in doing the research for it.” In a perfect pedagogical world, all students would be as equally invested in their course work and eager to learn, however, I do not believe it is the teacher’s responsibility to entertain students or include only texts or assignments that “interest” them, whatever that means. But I do depend on poetry’s dual function of “teaching and delighting” because anything that gets people to invest energy, curiosity, and even enthusiasm into their work is going to have two results: they will enjoy the process, which results in more learning and retention, and, less important, my job will be much easier and less boring.

 

At this point, I want to provide you with examples of the work students have produced with this assignment.Several semesters ago, I had a bright, engaging student named John Thompson who had a great sense of humor and irony, but who cared about little besides cool, sort of retro pop culture and becoming an author. As such, he really did not have time or interest in another mundane, boring assignment, but, he did have to pass the class. So he decided to write a script for Hamlet meets Star Wars. Once you think about it a little, the match is almost perfect. From the very beginning, John felt restricted by my ten page or 3000 word project length, and finally turned in late, as you might predict, a forty page script. Shannon Berg went the opposite direction: because she was going to teach, she wanted to learn how to do something she was not good at, something that would allow her to develop her awareness and implementation of multiple intelligences. No problem there. For some reason, she seemed embarrassed to tell me that she was thinking of a project based on Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. I was so excited by the possibilities that immediately began to run through my head and out my mouth that I probably intimidated her with my enthusiasm. Because she couldn’t draw, we discussed how she could cut out pictures, use familiar advertisements and clip art, think of abstract, original symbols that would represent the character or relationships she wanted to portray. Somewhat later, she came to see me in a panic, with a handful of paper plates and page upon page of research and reading notes. The project was not working as she had planned: every time she arranged who she had thought were the important characters, other characters seemed to intrude and demand attention which made her see the plays, the characters, and the relationships between them in different ways. Basically, they just would not stay put. She thought her project was a failure and that she should have chosen something else, but I told her that if our visit had been an oral exam on her project and the research she had done, she would have passed with flying colors.

 

My classes regularly include many technological wizards and web masters, students who are hypertextual, hot linked, and have done a variety of electronic projects. Christine Robertson, whose project was published in Illinois State University’s honors journal, created a web board populated by Shakespeare’s younger female characters including Juliet, Desdemona, Rosalind, Celia, and others. During her final presentation, she said that when she was working on the web site one day, her roommate came in and asked what she was doing. “Talking to myself,” Christine replied, and then thought, “well, talking to myself if I were ten different women.” Zach Chase, who works for the university newspaper, did an electronic newspaper called The Andronican, filled with reports on the Roman empire and their military campaigns, the births, deaths, and marriages of important citizens, advertising appropriate to the Roman world, and the like. Students have also published magazines, pamphlets, and handbooks. One of the most effective was Carolyn Rhoades’ project, The Seventeenth Century, based on the teen magazine, Seventeen, which included cover stories on young Shakespeare female characters, advice columns, horoscopes, reader quizzes on how to know if “your guy is right for you,” etc. She included an illustrated coffin advertisement connected to Othello, urging the reader to “send your loved one out in the style they deserve.” Kevin Poduska wrote a webzine based on The Merchant of Venice, which included trial updates and a popular early modern audience point/counterpoint on what the verdict should be. He reported that a leading Jewish moneylender’s daughter had disappeared in the night, but authorities did not think the disappearance was linked to her father’s current trial. He gave a money smart quiz, again, based on an early modern Venetian context.Erica Weber created an on-line marriage counseling site which described a series of Shakespearean marital portraits, followed by Erica’s analysis and application of the situation to the readers’ lives and relationship problems. Colleen Tierney, headed for law school, gave a strong performance as the defense attorney for Leontes in The Winter's Tale class trial, thus I expected her to use a legal format for her project; however, in her women’s literature course, she was reading A Midwife’s Tale whose format she decided to use as the basis of her Shakespeare project. She, along with Carolyn and Christine, presented their work last September at our department’s annual Undergraduate English Studies Symposium. Julie Richards wanted to do a Book of Shadows, focusing on Shakespearean witches. Her research soon taught her that although there are not many witches in the plays, most of Shakespeare’s work was written during James I’s reign, which made a witchcraft project more than pertinent. Her original design for was a series of spells and commentary on them as in an actual Book of Shadows, but the more she read, she decided to expand it into a collection of legends of famous early modern “witches,” spells, herbal medicinal recipes, and depictions of items associated with early modern witches, such as familiars, brooms, and cauldrons, etc. Julie established her project’s connection to the 20 th century through reference to the current revival of Wiccan tradition, magic, Harry Potter, etc. She came to office hours happy with her progress, but with one small problem: apparently her boyfriend, a science or computer major, kept horning in, volunteering to burn the edges of the pages of the journal she was using, to age them with a brown stain (probably tea or coffee), and to drip candle wax in the appropriate places. She laughingly told me that she could not get him to leave it alone. How much he got out of it, I will never know, but Julie learned a tremendous amount about her topic and turned in a very “old” shadow book.

 

Sometimes the learning that takes place is purely serendipitous, like one student’s trial project for The Winter's Tale. The defense was questioning Polixenes about his children and wife. The student, aka Polixenes, was embarrassed because he could not remember his wife’s name. No one in class could, at which point, I was able to bring up criticism on Shakespeare’s plays’ lack of mothers. During one student’s talk show project designed to reconcile the families of Romeo and Juliet, suddenly Rosaline, (a funny male class volunteer, who showed up wearing a flowered frock and work boots), jumped out of the audience, ran onto stage, and accused her cousin Juliet of stealing her man. Before this project, the class had not even realized the characters were related. My final example is the student who met my challenge to combine Shakespeare and current music. Nick Brocker chose As You Like It, then spent countless hours going through electronic song archives to find exactly the right lyrics and music to explore and portray the various emotions and experiences of the characters. The project included music from the Beatles to Pearl Jam to Radiohead. During the presentation, he quietly played the soundtrack while he described his project and explained how the characters were portrayed by the songs he matched with them.

I have begun to realize through the course of succeeding semesters, the specific and very different ways these projects benefit the students and me, and what we seem to be learning together. The students come to understand that their own cultural experiences have direct intellectual and analytical applications: their knowledge of media genres and formats makes possible their rhetorical analysis and cultural critique of early modern England. They also learn a great deal about the period when their projects are successful (i.e. why it is more appropriate to set Othello in the White House than in a high school, such as in the movie O). They become aware of distinct links between early modern culture and ours: for example, in a newspaper or magazine format, an astrology column is culturally consonant (Juliet’s horoscope says that she will fall in love with a handsome stranger; Orlando learns he may not know his own strength; Macbeth is warned to not take advice from strangers) because astrology was central to early modern psychology or study of the personality, as well as to people’s daily lives. They discover that Queen Elizabeth had her own official astrologer, John Dee, just like Nancy Reagan did, and they learn that modern day psychoanalysis has parallels in humeral theory. One student was very excited to report that her research on early modern fashion and beauty techniques revealed that Queen Elizabeth was the first Englishwoman to wear a wristwatch. They learn that financial news comes from Venice and stock reports from the Rialto. Their publications can include advertisements for New World products such as tobacco, chocolate, etc. If students choose to write on a topic or issue as their focus rather than a single play, they have to learn basic facts about a number of plays in order to effectively combine the narratives or characters. All students learn how to tap, investigate, evaluate, and utilize many different informational formats such as the library, the internet, the print resources of their own culture and the early modern period, as well as scholarly articles, journal indexes, and critical books. They also have to choose and then master the kind of language they will use. Should the characters speak 21 st century English, or the student’s best rendition of four hundred year old “modern” English? My research project is also very congenial to technology, which encourages students to utilize their skills or develop new ones, often with the help of one of their colleagues in class. Clearly, people with advanced technological skills are more likely to create websites, web boards, on-line newspapers, webzines, or hypertexts, but sometimes a student’s idea for an electronic project is so compelling that s/he is willing to learn the skills s/he needs to carry it out it, either at the campus computer labs, or more likely, from friends or classmates.

 

The final due date for these projects used to be at semester’s end. While reading them, I would stop by colleagues’ open doors to show them what inventive, entertaining, and thoughtful work students could produce under the right conditions; I sent emails to friends with students’ website addresses; and I carried the projects home for my partner and our granddaughter to read. Well, there is nothing wrong with any of those things, but I eventually realized that the students never got to see each other’s work. The solution was obvious – in class presentations, which do take up time, (usually the last two weeks of class), but the payoff is worth it. One student said in her/his final course reflection, “I also learned so much from other people sharing their projects in class in terms of that time period, its connection to our own, and additional Shakespeare plays.” I try very hard to enforce strict time limits, but this semester, Jenna Self, who was doing a Dateline transcript of Claudius’ trial for the murder of Hamlet’s father, looked up at the clock and said, “there is more, but I am out of time.” Amazingly, someone pointed out that we had finished a little early and asked to hear the rest of the transcript, so, Jenna and her class volunteers read to the dialogue’s conclusion. How many times do students want to stay in class any longer than they have to? It certainly does not happen in my classes on a regular basis.

 

Because this research assignment is fluid, I am constantly modifying it, trying to make the experience as useful as possible. I am currently considering, with input from students, putting the class in collaborative research groups, charged with creating semester long projects. Each group would design its project, work on the research, combine their knowledges and skills, write self and other assessments, and would hopefully produce more complex and complete work than they could do alone. As one student commented in his/her course evaluation, “I’m not a big fan of group work, but I noticed how many projects were similar to mine, and I think it would have [been] a good idea to get together with the others and make one really great project. Maybe put a technology nerd with a technology dummie! (like me).” I would like to develop a more dynamic presentation format as well, working perhaps with another colleague who recently showed me one of her drama student’s projects: Constanze Weber Mozart’s (Mozart's wife) leather journal, enclosed in a box covered in lavender silk and tied with a ribbon. The box also contained Mozart family portraits that the student found on the internet and designed to look like miniatures; fire and smoke-damaged love letters and assignation notes from Mozart to Constanze and vice versa, as well as a letter from Constanze's mother begging her to come home with the baby because Mozart couldn't provide for them; and finally, an ink bottle, nibbed pen, sealing wax, and embosser. I could also combine my course with another colleague’s hypertext course, a collaboration designed to electronically publish all the Shakespeare projects. Or, with some student help, I could put each semester’s work on-line which would not to be too difficult if each student electronically submitted their project. The university printer could produce hard copies which would be more economical than commercial printing. Given that Illinois State graduates many teachers, students might want to buy a copy to use in preparing to student teach, writing lesson plans, or in creating teaching portfolios.

 

I have this continuing fantasy that I will get teaching down to a fine art: all I will have to do to prepare for a new semester is fill out new copies of last semester’s book orders and whip out my Shakespeare file to have the syllabus reproduced. While the lack of hard work that this vision entails is appealing, I realize that if it ever did happen, I should either quit teaching or re-educate myself. I know too, that the research project will continue to change; that it is never a neat and tidy process (like it might appear to be from this essay) because problems arise and some people still manage to make Cs and Ds. It has also taken me awhile to get past the guilt of not having my students write a traditional final paper. I worry that my idea might be more fun than scholarly; what if the students think I am a pushover? or my department considers me to be anti-intellectual and unprofessional? Then I remind myself of past successful student projects; I remember that to sustain a discursive form that combines multiple time periods, often many characters and at least several plays, and to carry it out for at least 3000 words is a far more complex task than writing a paper. If a student tries to blow off the assignment with some simplistic pretense, it is immediately apparent to me, but more important, to the entire class during presentations. If there is one thing most of us hate, it is looking bad in front of our peers. Actually, I have seldom found this to be a problem, perhaps in part because Illinois State produces lots of teachers who tend to be rather unnaturally excited about things intellectual. Because English Education majors realize they may have to teach Shakespeare someday to kids who are not interested in much of anything, assignments such as the one described in this essay help these future teachers to develop their own pedagogical strategies. I try to remember that successful projects allow students to build on their own interests and knowledges to create bridges that demonstrate, without me saying much at all, the relevance of studying pre-nineteenth century literature and culture. They create self-generated links, not erasure, between themselves and the past, which they can do only by learning a good bit of theory, early modern English culture, the discursive form they are working in, and finally, Shakespeare’s plays. We have all consistently learned a great deal more about both our own worlds and those of the early modern period, and we have learned how to take art and a whole world that becomes more alien, more difficult, and more unfamiliar with every year that passes, and negotiate the text, the language, and the genre, not only for ourselves, but for a broader audience as well.

 

Works Cited

 

Africanus, Leo. Historie of Africa, 1526.

Aughterson, Kate, ed. Renaissance Woman: Constructions of Femininity in

England . New York: Routledge, 1995.

Belsey, Catherine. "Literature, History, Politics." New Historicism and Renaissance Drama. Eds. Richard Wilson and Richard Dutton. New York: Longman, 1992,

33-44.

-----. “Reading the Past,” introduction to The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and

Difference in Renaissance Drama . New York: Routledge, 1985.

Bohannan, Laura. “Shakespeare in the Bush.” The Informed Reader:

Contemporary Issues in the Disciplines . Ed. Charles N. Bazerman. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989, 43-55.

Boose, Lynda E. “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s

Unruly Member.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 42, summer 1991, #2, 179-213.

Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party. New York: Doubleday, 1979.

Fitz, Linda “‘What Says the Married Woman?’ Marriage Theory and Feminism in

the English Renaissance.” Mosaic 13 (1980):1-22.

Hamlet 2000 . Dir. Eric Simonson, Campbell Scott, Michael Almereyda. Miramax,

2000.

Howard, Jean. “The New Historicism in Renaissance Studies. Ed. By Richard

Wilson and Richard Dutton, New Historicism and Renaissance Drama. New

York Longman, 1992.

MacDonald, Russ. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare. New York: Bedford St.

Martin’s, 2 nd edition, 2001.

O . Dir. Tim Blake Nelson, Trimark Home Video. 2001.

Othello. Dir. Oliver Parker. Warner. 1995.

Panati, Charles. Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. New York:

Harper and Row, 1987.

Pollard A. W. and G. R. Redgrave. A Short Title Catalogue of Books Printed Abroad,

1475-1640 . London: Bibliographical Society, 1926. Revised edition, Ed. W.

A. Jackson et al. London: Bibliographical Society, 1976.

Romeo and Juliet . Baz Lurhmann, Twentieth Century Fox. 1996.

Shakespeare, William. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare. Othello. vol. VI.

2nd edition. Ed. Horace Howard Furness. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1886.

The Taming of the Shrew . Dir. Franco Zeffirelli, Columbia TriStar. 1967.

Thompson, Torri L. “Studies in Shakespeare: Strategies for a Feminist Pedagogy." Feminist Teacher, Fall/Winter 1994, Vol. 8, #2, 67-74.

-----. “Transformative Teaching of Renaissance Literature Through Intertextual

Discursive Constellations.” Transformations, Spring 1999.

Titus . Dir. Julie Taymor. Twentieth Century Fox. 1999.

Two Horrible murders done in Lincolnshire, by two husbands . Anonymous. 1607.

STC #4768.

Widdicombe, Toby. Simply Shakespeare. New York: Longman, 2002.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. A Midwife’s Tale. New York: Vintage, 1991.

Wilson, Richard and Richard Dutton, eds. New Historicism and Renaissance

Drama . New York: Longman, 1992.

 

 

The following is a description of my Shakespeare course, which students receive on the first day :

We will study a selection of Shakespeare’s plays, along with primary and secondary texts (cultural and critical) that help compose the intertextual discursive constellation of what has commonly been termed “Shakespeare.” We will, through reading and discussion, focus on the production of domestic space and gender roles and how these are juxtaposed to public space. This particular perspective is based on the early modern perception that “the family is the state in small,” with implications for both, an issue which is central to Shakespeare’s work.

This course is not constructed on a coverage model. In fact, we will read relatively few plays, for several reasons. First, current early modern studies is dominated by New Historicist theory which insists that texts can’t be read in isolation, which means that Shakespeare can’t be understood without early modern social, religious, political, economic, etc., texts. Second, my goal is to teach you two basic things: how to negotiate the past from the present, which results in reading texts that are frighteningly unfamiliar, complex, and difficult; and, to teach you how to do a rich reading of literary texts from a New Historicist perspective.

We watch films such as The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, Hamlet 2000, Romeo and Juliet, and Titus. The last three are especially useful for demonstrating how popular culture can become an intertextual vehicle between past and present.

My thanks to Irene Taylor, a departmental staff member, who is scanning all my materials, primary and secondary, into PDF files that will be placed on my public folder so students will have access to course material as well as to a large body of primary research materials. See my website, http://www.english.ilstu.edu/tlthomps and please email me if you have texts on line.

A new activity that I want to pilot is going to be called “The Electronic Early Modern World”: we will go to a computer lab, get on the internet and look at the incredible amount of available information and Shakespeare, his plays, and their cultural context, which will not only introduce students to a wealth of materials, but may also stimulate project ideas.

The third week of class, they choose groups from four to five people, and while I openly acknowledge the awkwardness of the whole process, I promise them that by the mid-term exam, they will so heavily depend on each other that they will forgive me. Their first assignment is to introduce themselves to each other in writing, which they email to me as well, so we can create address book entries and mailboxes for file storage. I encourage regular email because it strengthens our relationship as a learning community, which I facilitate with announcements, reminders, or direct answers to individual questions that seem likely to apply to multiple people.

The proposal must contain the following: • a developed description of the project • why the student chose this topic or text (interest) • what s/he already knows about the subject • what s/he does not know about the subject • specifically how s/he will locate the information that s/he needs to know • how the project is connected to the larger early modern English context • what other members of the class share this area of research? List names and form research groups • an annotated bibliography that includes • three non-fiction general background sources on the topic that provide historical and sociological context, published no earlier than 1980 • four critical articles published no earlier than 1990 • any newspaper or popular magazine articles that are helpful

My students sign statements which document whether or not they give me permission to use their work in an academic setting.

I give the minimum ten page or 3000 word limit choice because of the difference in project genres.

This symposium was designed to support and facilitate community for undergraduate English majors and minors, in addition to the many other students who have interest in and ties to the English Studies Department. The Symposium allows students to present their work in English Education, Linguistics, Literature, Rhetoric and Composition, Technical Writing, Children's Literature, World Literatures, English as a Second Language, and Teaching English as a Second Language.

In fact, one of my students, Amiee Bullinger, volunteered to help me create a website that would contain all of the early modern projects.

My thanks to Hilary Justice for sharing her class’s work with me. We are considering co-teaching a Shakespeare course that would be focused around the production of projects such as these.

The university, chartered in 1857, with Abraham Lincoln doing the paperwork, is Illinois’ oldest public institution and was originally a normal school, dedicated to producing teachers.

“Unlike the average research paper, this project demanded higher levels of connection making, creativity, more intense research, and ultimately more work than I have put in on any assignment of comparable length. However, it was proportionally rewarding in terms of what I learned and how much I enjoyed it” (a student evaluation reflection).

Shakespeare Courses
222: Shakespeare's Early Works
223: Shakespeare's Later Works
422: Graduate Shakespeare

Shakespeare Projects
Description
Links to student projects
List of old projects

Shakespeare Links
All about Shakespeare
The plays and theaters
Early modern period

Image Gallery
coming soon...

Important Links
List serve
Milner Library
English Department
Dr. Thompson's Home Page

Dr. Torri L. Thompson
421 J Stevenson
Office Phone: 438-7078
Office Hours: Wed, 9-11
Email Address: tlthomps@ilstu.edu