Although I try to steer clear of subsituting movies for fiction, whenever I teach drama I always try to show videos of the plays we cover. As Marie rightly points out, even a Shakespeare play is a script that’s meant to be performed, and while just reading it on the page can be very rewarding, just reading it is still, on a certain level, not the full experience.
To chime in on two or three threads of this discussion–
I guess I was lucky to have relatively progressive high school teachers — in two states. In suburban Illinois (Glen Ellyn) in 10th grade, my English class teacher devoted one period per week to just reading – anything we wanted. He was perfectly content to have me read a volume of Wollheim/Carr’s World’s Best Science Fiction for several weeks. This was in 1970/71. Two years later, my family having moved (back) to California, my 12th grade AP English teacher in suburban LA gave me an A on a paper comparing/contrasting Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Also — re another thread — he arranged to have the whole class attend a live afternoon performance of a Shakespeare play at one of the downtown LA theatres — one of the Richard or Henry plays, I don’t remember now which one. Back in the classroom, we read three or four other plays, Hamlet and Othello and Midsummer’s Night Dream, and discussed them in class; I don’t recall that we acted/read them in class.
On the subject of gateway books, several of my earliest genre reads were — ironically, since I mostly disdain them now — TV/movie ties: Clarke’s 2001, Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage, Blish’s Star Trek adaptations. All of those quickly led me to other Clarke and Asimov and Blish books. In the 9th grade (in Illinois) there was a curious arrangement by which a library cart of paperbacks for sale was wheeled into our ‘homeroom’ class once a week, and it was that way that I discovered Ray Bradbury, whom, like Asimov and Clarke, I quickly sought out every available title…
On the general subject of whether Heinlein would still be appealing to contemporary readers.. I’m a tad skeptical of the argument that young readers would only respond to contemporary books, that Heinlein’s would seem too outdated. My own favorite childhood books — before I discovered SF — were a series of ‘Adventure’ novels by Enid Blyton (some of which were stocked in the local LA public libraries at the time). Part of the reason I liked them was because they were set long ago (15+ years before I read them beginning at age 10, which was relatively long ago) and in a different world (England, as opposed to suburban LA). Do modern young readers really only respond to books set in their contemporary world, with cellphones and the internet?
Does anyone have any direct experience with teenage readers responding, or not, to Heinlein’s juveniles?
Another peripheral topic perhaps — considering ‘required’ reading of Shakespeare, The Death of a Salesman, A Separate Peace, et al.
In high school I played clarinet and took a band course. We played random pieces of music handed down to us — Holst, Sousa marches, maybe some Tchaikovsky. I never realized until years later that I never, taking band courses, learned anything about the history of music — nothing about the transitions from Renaissance to Baroque to Classical to Romantic to 20th century. Nothing to place those random pieces we played in any kind of context. I learned all that on my own (and partly through a later college course in the history of music).
So — for all the complaints about ‘required’ reading in high school, how would one teach high school students about the richness of the history of literature, without reading specific examples? Is it that the examples were bad ones? Or that most students of a certain age are simply resistant to anything that’s ‘assigned’?
They were young adults rather than teens, but for the most part the comments on the Heinlein juveniles, and on Heinlein books in general, on the recent Hugo retrospective on Tor.com were pretty negative, and the younger the responders were, the more likely the comments were to be negative. Although they mostly didn’t like Heinlein because of the racist/sexist/right-wing issues; I don’t recall the “dated” issue coming up. Interestingly, some of those who didn’t like Heinlein because he was racist/sexist/right-wing admitted that they had never actually READ any Heinlein.
Not to divert the thread, but–
There has been considerable change in handling Shakespeare in the classroom in the last few decades. When I first taught him, around 1968 or so, and even a decade later when my wife started teaching her specialty, the plays were handled in much the same way that novels were, partly because there were few ways of seeing them as plays in the classroom. I’m sure some teachers had students read out scenes, but unless you could manage to show one of the (relatively few) films available (with the help of an AV Club nerd to run the 16mm projector) or were lucky enough to have a production going on locally, you were going to treat Shakespeare as closet drama. This is fine for teaching the various machineries of poetry, character, and structure, but it leaves out the sense of interpretive range you get from seeing multiple productions.
That all changed when the BBC decided to produce the entire canon, and videotapes of those productions became available via the school library. Since then, it has become possible to find multiple productions of the major plays, and now my wife always shows full productions and/or shows scene comparisons. One of her favorite set-pieces is three contrasting versions of the dark-house scene from Twefth Night–students find it simultaneously illuminating and confusing.
Nevertheless, Shakespeare is strong enough to survive the closet-drama approach–it’s how I started with him at age ten or so, via the Folger Library editions with facing-page notes. It’s not for everyone, though, and it certainly flattens material like the mechanicals’ portion of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was the first Shakespeare I ever saw staged. That experience has stayed with me for nearly fifty years.
One of my favorite memories of grad school life is hosting weekly potlucks followed by group Shakespeare readings. I agree, he’s strong enough to survive in at least a few hearts no matter how joyless the classroom becomes.
You have to see shakespeare performed, I think, although the language is so difficult it helps to have read a little, anyway. Especially a kid is going to have trouble even with “Halt. Who goes there? Nay, answer me.” but in other news, there’s a movie coming out (or out) that tries to project Edward de Vere as the “real” shakespeare. I find this utterly loony, am I missing something?
You’re not missing anything, Cecilia. But I’m persuaded that the director of the film (“Anonymous”), Roland Emmerich, is a few plays short of a full quarto.
Guy Gavriel Kay
His de vere is half full, in other words?
A half-full quarto would be a pinto, no?
(Sorry–it should have been “a folio” anyway.)
One suspects that Emmerich’s literary-historical scholarship will operate on about the same level as the science in, say, Independence Day. One suspects that Doctor Who has done a better job.
Maybe it’s vair, and he’s a nutcase.
Not only is it Oxfordian, it insists that Oxford is Elizabeth’s bastard son — and then, if memory of what I read serves me correctly, she sleeps with him and they have another bastard, this one incestuous.
Yeah. It’s like that.
I cringe at the thought of how many students are going to cite this film in class next semester. It’s going to be worse than the “Percy Shelley wrote Frankenstein” thing. Maybe I should just prepare an “Oxfordian/Elizabeathan/Sex/No!” slide and have it up in the background of every class…
Between Anonymous and Shakespeare in Love, today’s student can learn everything worth knowing about the Bard in four hours of viewing time.