This current Shakespeare Workshop, in which I am teaching The Taming of the Shrew (Elizabeth Taylor and on-again/off-again hubby Richard Burton starred in Franco Zeffirelli's 1967 version, pictured at the left) to a group of Catholic homeschoolers in grades 5-12, is really going so very, very well. Yesterday, I had a couple of absolutely brilliant comments (which of course I cannot now remember) from Jimmy, Isaac, Alea and Rebecca. Working with homeschoolers is never, ever a burden. It is a blessing, from beginning to end. Even when I had a monstrous hot flash during my lecture.
The Taming of the Shrew caused my hot flash. Shakespeare had a very ribald wit and it seems that nowhere is that wit more exercised than in Shrew. Yesterday, we were viewing the scenes of Kate and Petruchio's stormy first meeting on my two DVDs and that whole section where Kate starts off by calling Petruchio a "joined stool" made me quite nervous. It's....rather naughty. Unmistakably so, although some of the references probably slipped right past the kids' heads. But some were too marked to ignore. I wrestled with myself last week as I made my lesson plan. Should I just ignore it and turn a deaf ear to the inevitable adolescent giggling, or should I just say: "Look. This is who William Shakespeare was. He was a Catholic, fervent but not perfect. He was a genius who could portray the human condition, sinners and saints and everyone in between, in a way that no other playwright has ever done. But he also wrote poop jokes. And fart jokes. And...other jokes. He was a man for the people, both highbrow and lowbrow. So there you go."
I chose Option #2. The kids giggled as I told them -- with restraint -- about poop jokes and fart jokes. I completely left out any references to the sexual jokes. I am not that brave.
The planning for next fall's workshop needs to get underway, which means that Michelle and I need to sit down with a calendar and figure things out so that her schedule won't just be butchered like it has this spring. She's had to juggle a Spanish co-op and piano lessons in order to fit my class into her living room and although she is always cheerful and uncomplaining, I know it's been a headache.
Here are the two choices I have presented to the Shakespeare Moms: Katie, Michelle, Virginia, Lucy and Jane. They are the five ladies whose children have taken part in all three workshops I've offered so far (Twelfth Night, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew) and I've asked their opinion on what we should do in October.
Henry V -- Would be wonderful because HISTO is going to focus on the medieval period next year and King Henry fits right into that time period with the Battle of Agincourt, Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War. I have three DVD productions of Henry V. Kayte also suggested a day trip to the Frasier International History Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. The Frasier has a living exhibit of the Battle of Agincourt, complete with in-character docents, armor, arms and history info. That sounds just too delightful for words. And I simply can't resist Henry's St. Crispin's Day speech to his troops. It makes me come unglued every time I hear it.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
If you'd like to hear it, here are both Kenneth Branagh and Sir Laurence Olivier declaiming wonderfully on YouTube.com.
I thought that Henry V seemed like an excellent choice until I got the Indianapolis Repertory Theater's brochure in the mail announcing their upcoming season. And what should be there but Macbeth?
Macbeth -- I absolutely hate the idea of turning down the chance to see Shakespeare performed live, as it is supposed to be. I am violently opposed to the reading of Shakespeare. It puts kids right off him. That's why I've collected an extremely extensive DVD library of Shakespeare's plays; I have several different copies of about seventeen plays, maybe more. I haven't taken count for a while.
Macbeth would be a wonderful play to study because it fits in so well with Shakespeare's Catholicism. Scholars believe that it was already written at the time the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, but that Shakespeare added to it to mollify the king, and also incidentally allow the play to serve as a way to distance himself from the Catholic terrorists who had planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James, his son and many members of Parliament. They also planned to kidnap James's little daughter. It must have been a terribly anxious time for Shakespeare - all the conspirators were Warwickshire men, most of whom were undoubtedly personal acquaintances. In fact, the Gunpowder Plot was planned at the Mermaid Tavern in London; this happened to be Shakespeare's neighborhood pub, the one he visited frequently.
Knowing what happened to the conspirators as they were captured and executed, he must have wanted to make certain that King James understood what side of the terrorist fence he stood on.
The entire play underscores the tension of the era, when Catholics had hoped for a sympathizer in their new king, only to find that the persecutions they'd endured under Queen Elizabeth I were only worsened. He was, after all, a baptized Catholic himself, although he'd been raised by a staunchly Protestant guardian. But James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. And his wife was a Catholic. The members of England's "old faith" were in near despair when they learned of the Plot, knowing that heightened troubles were going to rain down upon them.
I'm looking forward to seeing what the moms have to say.
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