Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing several student reviews of Global Shakespeare plays from my Spring 2013 semester course, Introduction to Shakespeare. All plays reviewed are available on the MIT Global Shakespeares digital archive.
I think it is important for students to see live productions of Shakespeare’s plays whenever possible and many of my students did see productions and adaptations of: OSU’s Twelfth Night at the Lincoln Theatre, RSC’s Tim Crouch’s I, Malvolio, the Columbus Met Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet, as well as All Shook Up (inspired by Twelfth Night (and, of course, Elvis)), The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged, and an original work concerning the inception of the authorship controversy, Behind the Arras; after the semester ended, several more students saw the RSC production of Julius Caesar in Columbus.
But to guarantee that all students had access to a stage performance, I had students choose a play from the MIT Global Shakespeares digital archive that corresponded to one of the plays we read in class and review it, as though it were to published in a local newspaper or magazine.
Introduction to Shakespeare fulfills a “global” general education requirement, although most of us would place him firmly in the “dead white guy” canon. In fact, he is the ultimate “Dead White Guy.” Shakespeare does not have the best track record when it comes to racial and cultural sensitivity (think of his two Moors, Aaron & Othello, as quick examples), but his work is constantly translated and adapted for and adopted by peoples around the world. I hoped to teach that Shakespeare was not only as Ben Jonson stated “not of an age, but for all time!” but also that Shakespeare is not of a place, but for all the world!
Inspired by Professor Margaret Litvin’s use of the Global Shakespeares archive in her own teaching (and especially her class blog), I wanted to incorporate soem aspects of global-mindedness in my Shakespeare course, while teaching students how to write for a real and public audience.
To prepare, students read Josh Magsam’s helpful evaluation of this archive. Then students read the first part of a two-part interview with Professor Alexander Huang, Co-founder of Global Shakespeares, concerning this digital archive. I encouraged students to read cultural anthropologist Laura Bohannon’s seminal piece “Shakespeare in the Bush,” which pushes back against the universal nature of Shakespeare’s work. I also introduced students to last year’s Globe to Globe performances, 37 plays performed in 37 languages this summer at London’s Globe Theatre.
With this background of global Shakespeare at hand, we turned to the conventions of writing a theatrical review. Students brought in three theatrical reviews—they could come from Columbus area newspapers, The New York Times, different London publications, etc.—and together, we discussed the conventions of a review, and especially highlighted the features of a strong review. Students wrote the guidelines and rubric for this assignment.
Some of the plays had subtitles; some did not. Some were very loose adaptations or thoroughly modernized innovations; other productions incorporated traditional aspects of that region’s own theatrical history and traditions. It was a challenging assignment, but students stated that they were happy to have this experience to see Shakespeare performed in another country, in another language.
I have asked several students to revise their essays for “publication” on my blog. I hope that you enjoy these reviews.