Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christopher's Advice on Studying Shakespeare

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Dear Distressed Sibling,
I heard that you're a little anxious about your upcoming Shakespeare class.  I will admit that Shakespeare can be a wee bit daunting, but I think in the end you'll find it one of the most rewarding classes you'll take.
This semester, in my Shakespeare class, I had some wonderful experiences interfacing with these plays and sonnets on a deeper level.  One of these experiences was when a classmate and I used the online chat website slack to collaboratively read The Merchant of Venice.  We set aside time to be online at the same time and comment on Slack in real time as we read.  As we were reading, she and I were able to respond to each other's insights and commentary, which improved my understanding of the play.  She helped me notice how Shakespeare uses formal elements like meter to develop his characters.  This play is now one of my favorite plays because of this positive experience.
I believe that to get the most out of any Shakespeare class, you should know how to approach understanding Shakespeare.  I found that annotating my ebook copies of his plays as I read them helped me notice overarching themes and ideas I wouldn’t have noticed if I had been reading a paper text.  Once you start noticing these patterns, it’s much easier to enjoy Shakespeare.  When I was reading my e-book copy of King Lear, for instance, I found even more depth in my favorite play.  I was able to notice interesting contradictions in the character of Edmund and this was invaluable for my final essay.
Hopefully you will learn more about writing on Shakespeare as well.  One valuable lesson about writing on Shakespeare I learned is an increased appreciation for the intersections of his work with modern pop-culture.  With my final paper, for example, my professor had us look at performances, images and media sources suited for defending our argument.  I was able to find some interesting 21st century performances which gave me valuable evidence for my claim.  Look beyond the text when you’re writing about Shakespeare.
You may have noticed that many of the strategies which I used this semester to enjoy and discuss Shakespeare involved nontraditional sources such as Slack conversations and performances.  While I sometimes felt like class was spent more on learning how to use technology than actually reading Shakespeare, I ultimately found it worth it.  An example that comes to mind are the blog posts we used for many of our assignments.  At first, I treated the blog post as I would a normal essay for class.  Over the course of the semester, however, I understood more the value of tailoring my posts for an online audience. When we wrote sonnets at the beginning of the semester, for example, it was interesting writing and formattign them with the expectation of feedback.  Nontraditional mediums of education were key to my appreciation of Shakespeare this semester.
Well, good luck!  Let me know how it goes!
Your brother,

Chris M

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