Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Little Shakespeare on This Thursday

At a recent holiday party, the elementary school aged son of my school's principal asked one of the English teachers present to tell him a story. All she could come up with off the top of her head was Shakespeare's Hamlet. I believe she was in the middle of teaching it at school. She kept him happily entertained. I love that story. Actually, I love both stories- the one of the Christmas party and Hamlet. I do not love everything the Bard wrote, but I can see the influence of the storyteller. In the hands of a good storyteller (teacher, director, reader), it is easy to see why Shakespeare's works have stood the test of time. In the hands of a bad storyteller (ie the nun who taught my junior and senior years of high school English), studying Shakespeare's plays can make a student fall asleep, cry, or fantasize futilely about worse tortures. In the hands (or camera or mouth) of a good storyteller, Shakespeare's works can thrill and delight. For example, I read King Lear in high school and thought it was awful and boring and made little sense. Two years later in college it was taught to me by a professor visiting from England. He wore a big knitted scarf everyday, knew all of the play by heart it seemed, and loved it like it was a baby. I'll never forget him or how he made me see King Lear as a fabulous and heartbreaking family story. I've really liked the play ever since, although I haven't read it in about a dozen years. Then Gareth Hinds' graphic novel version came across my desk this week. I like King Lear even more now and would definitely use this book with my students if I ever have occasion to teach Lear in the future. First, I know that graphic novels can be a bridge, a way in, for many students. Secondly, the artwork is great and much of Shakespeare's language is kept. Finally, there is something about the way Hinds positions the characters on the page that makes the experience feel as much like viewing a dramatic production as it feels like reading a book. I am now curious to check out Gareth Hinds' version of The Merchant of Venice.


Jim said...

Wow, looks lovely. Just went to his site and looked at some samples. Wonderful. I love the Bard and I love comics, so can't wait to check these out. Thanks.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Teachers make all the difference.