Friday, January 29, 2016

Teaser: Henry VI, part 1

Why should you read Henry VI, part 1?

  1. Joan of Arc is the villain. That's right, the famed gender-bending Frenchwoman makes a foray into Brit lit! The English change their mind about her madonna/whore status every other line or so.
  2. "Submission, dauphin? 'Tis a mere French word. We English warriors wot not what it means."
  3. If you like the Republican presidential debates, you'll love the treachery and foolishness of medieval leaders!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Shakespeare in Snow and Sunshine

Former regular readers may know that I have recently migrated north. Having returned to a state of appropriate distance from Canada (like North Dakota, my home and native land), I am loving the snow and the cozy indoor time for more reading! Thus I have embarked on a quest to read all of Shakespeare, and, dear readers, today I propose to bring you with me on that journey.

A bit of background: I started reading Shakespeare when I was eleven. My mom had her college copy of the Complete Works prominently displayed in our living room, and L.M. Montgomery's characters (Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, etc.) all discussed the Bard so much that I wanted to join in that conversation. I read Much Ado about Nothing first, then A Comedy of Errors. The former I have read many times since; the latter, not for these twenty years. I ended up taking four Shakespeare classes in college and one in graduate school, so while I am by no means a professional scholar in the subject, I have tackled the plays quite a bit with help from those scholars.

In any case, this summer it occurred to me that, should I die without completing the canon, I should deeply regret it. I lucked into a good part-time job for the year that leaves my mornings open for quiet contemplation, so I have begun filling in the gaps in my knowledge with diligent study. At this count, I have read twenty-five of the thirty-seven canonical works. So I am beginning with the plays I had never read, and plan to re-read all the plays I have read with new lenses.

For one cannot embark on such a project with just one's own edification in mind. As an English teacher, I try to put myself in the shoes of my students by tackling difficult and unfamiliar works, then seeing what strategies help me to make sense of the text. Also, I wish to forge a way of interacting with text, of prowling about in it and devouring morsels of wisdom and humor and sagacity while vehemently responding to these aged words. Ultimately I want to create an anarchist approach to text, one that prioritizes liberation and personal experience and the humanity of story-telling.

With this in mind, I will be writing a series of three posts on each of the plays:

  1. A "teaser," describing why you should read each play
  2. An analysis of what I found surprising or brilliant
  3. A description of Shakespeare the Anarchist (you knew that was coming, right?) as revealed in the text
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I know that Shakespeare was not an anarchist in any practical sense of the word. He certainly prioritized order and authority. He generally was a fan of the monarchy and devoted much ink to its history. Politically, he could hardly be called even a small-d democrat or small-r republican. Fear of mob rule and chaos permeates his work. Yet his observations on the nature of power and his habit of humanizing even the lowest of characters lend his work to the Revolution, and I will be examining how these plays point to liberation even as they uphold the centralized power structure of their era.

This will function as a public journal of my readings. But should you be moved to read a play, I would be thrilled to host a guest blog post! I long for a world where we swap ideas about books freely and hilariously. And everyone needs more Shakespeare in her life.