When I told my ENGL 1000 students that the next work we’d be studying was Shakespeare’s Othello, the looks they gave me were… chilling. They might as well have been O himself after hearing that his sweet loving Desi had been a lil’ bit TOO sweet and loving, if ya know what mean.
Here’s the thing: I get that reading Shakespeare can be dull, but that’s because anyone who KNOWS Shakespeare’s stuff KNOWS that his plays aren’t meant to be read, they’re meant to be performed! These plays are so amazing that they’ve lasted for 400+ years, and if a student thinks Shakespeare = weird English words in a really boring book, then obviously they’ve never seen a kick-ass Shakespeare play. So because this blog is about my experience as a grad student, and since I’m a TA who does not want to deal with two weeks of Othello seminars consisting of blank stares and cricket noises, I thought I’d sketch out my teaching game plan here. And thus I present to you:
“Shakespeare Got To Get Paid, Son:” Sarah’s Sketchy Shakespeare Seminars
First, I’ll show them this:
And then I’ll regale them with tales about how Shakey (as I call him) was in the ENTERTAINMENT business, and he was ALL about drawing in the crowds and impressing them with his word magic. The take away lesson here is that even in a play as dark as Othello (erm), Shakespeare wanted his audiences to enjoy themselves as he led them on this incredible dramatic journey. Then I’ll tell my kids that the first one to find the most hilarious metaphor for sex in Othello gets a prize.
I’ll then spend the majority of that first seminar going through the play with my students, making sure they understood what actually went down and hopefully getting them to make some analytical connections. At the very end of seminar, I want to take ten minutes to introduce the “Sketchy Shakespeare Activity” which will either make me the best TA ever or get me fired:
I believe that Shakespeare is best when you get to play around with him, and so, for the awesome reward of a +5% overall participation mark increase (and maybe some candy), I’m going to invite my students to prepare a brief, personal, somewhat unorthodox interpretation of Othello. Now, these are first-year university students, so I doubt any of them will be up for performing a scene from the play in front of their peers (if they are though, bully for them and they’ll get the points). What I’m banking on is the fact that their sense of humour is about as immature as my own, meaning that they’ll most likely really respond to the following, which I think is brilliant:
This is the Sassy Gay Friend’s first Shakespearian take, and there is a video for Othello, which can be viewed here (it makes more sense if you’ve seen the Romeo + Juliet one first). I’ll show my students both videos, and then invite them to prepare a similar sketch for next week. Again, I doubt anyone will be willing to perform (but if they do want to, huzzah!), so I’ll just ask them to write a brief script that they can then read aloud to the class. What I really want to see is them interacting with the characters, either cheering them on or similarly asking “WHAT, WHAT, WHAT ARE YOU DOING” (so it’s character analysis, but fun!). I won’t give too rigid a structure, because I want them to be as creative as possible. Finally, in the second seminar that we have set aside for Othello, I’ll open once again by fielding questions that might have come up from that week’s reading/lecture, but then we’ll dive right into what I’m thinking could be a potentially hilarious and memorable discussion of the Bard, of whom I am so very fond.
What do you guys think?