Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Abby’s Advice on Studying Shakespeare

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I understand your apprehension over your required Shakespeare course for next semester. Before taking my Shakespeare class this past semester, I was a little bit worried about being able to understand the “archaic” language.  I was nervous about the requirement to write a sonnet, and I was insecure with my personal writing ability. My limited exposure to Shakespeare in high school left me with the belief that Shakespeare was inaccessible. However, through the course of this semester, my perspective has changed and I would like to encourage you not only to approach Shakespeare with an open mind, but also with the belief that you can do well by deciding that studying the Bard is worthwhile.
One positive part of the term was creating and strengthening relationships with like-minded students that helped me to consider interpretations of the text completely different from my own. This was mostly done over the instant messaging, social media platform called “Slack.” While studying the text on my own, I tuned in to see what other students thought about each play. This helped me to watch for specific points in each story, as well as to develop their ideas by contributing my own discoveries. It helped me to become more comfortable recognizing formal elements and rhetorical devices because I could draw on the knowledge of my classmates for help.
One especially positive experience on Slack was when we separated into small groups for studying individual plays. Mine turned out to be a group of two studying Julius Caesar. For both of our discussions, we weren’t very far along in the play (which was reassuring that my partner moved at the same pace that I did). We both contributed research relating to the historical time period and cultural context of the play, and then moved on to do an extremely close reading of the play, looking for formal elements. It was really cool to be able to throw out ideas to one another and then develop those ideas into thesis that we used in our eventual term-end research papers.
Something that really helped in that process was looking up a summary of each play ahead of time – before reading the text at all. After I had ensured that I knew what was going on with the plot, it was a lot easier to focus on the truly fascinating parts of Shakespeare. While the plots are interesting, I would argue that they are not necessarily what make Shakespeare special. Rather, it’s the language that creates the scene. When I didn’t have to worry about understanding the plot, I could focus on formal elements that set up characters and interactions. Before, I could talk about character motivations and themes, but now I can evidence those through formal elements in order to show larger truths about society at large. I know this seems a little bit silly to be so excited about, but it really helped to improve my writing by identifying rhetorical elements and considering their purpose. Or, to feel like an idea was being conveyed and then discover how it was accomplished through rhetorical devices. It made the language much more accessible.
I also saw my writing improve by creating a tightly focused question that not only required an organized response, but also was interesting enough to divide an educated audience. This required me to have specific topics to research, as well as to keep my writing extremely organized in order to tie back to that question. It also helped to keep me focused as I studied the text. If I had something specific that I was looking for in order to find evidence for my idea, I would pay much better attention to the text and discovery new ideas in the process.

Because I am a social learner, “Smartphone Shakespeare” was a very positive experience. Discussing with students online enriched my experience with the text in a unique way that reading on my own and then discussing in class does not. For me, it seemed more approachable. I was more willing to share my ideas because I didn’t have to come up with them on the spot. I wasn’t afraid of missing something important in my note taking my participating. I know that is another silly thing to worry about, but it’s a true struggle that I have. By socializing the course through online participation, I was able to have a better experience than with my other literature courses. It also helped me to realize that literature is a human experience. Its not only meant to connect the reader and writer, but also to connect various communities of readers. Shakespeare can be universally applied to many situations, and it allows for human connection.

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