R2016 ENGL311

Film Diary: Branagh’s *Hamlet* (1996)

For my English 311 course this term, I’ve been watching Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 full-text of Hamlet while I read the play in Robert Miola’s Norton edition.


That edition includes an excerpt (176-82) from Kenneth Branagh’s introduction to the play, in which he describes the full text as offering more contextual richness than typically abridged performance versions: the background story of Polonius and his agent Reynaldo, and the plotting scene between Claudius and Laertes that sets the stage for his climactic duel with the prince.

The latter is an intense, whispered, conspiratorial conversation in which the grief-stricken Laertes (Michael Maloney) delivers the line “Thus didst thou” (4.7.55) as “Thus diest thou” — through gritted teeth, and with steely resolve. And when Claudius (Derek Jacobi) ruminates on their backup plan to kill Hamlet, it’s his upraised glass that makes him think of the poisoned chalice (4.7.155-61).

In short, this scene in the film made me appreciate how choices of text, of setting, of props, and of performance can influence my interpretation of a line like this one.


Teaching Shakespeare in the Screen Age

Shakespeare is hard

Reading Shakespeare is hard, especially if it’s your first time. It’s hard because Shakespeare writes plays and poems in unfamiliar language, making unfamiliar cultural references – and because his meanings are buried beneath two layers, of historical distance and of poetic style. So readers in 2016 need to excavate Shakespeare’s meaning from beneath his idiom and his syntax.

But reading Shakespeare in 2016 is hard for a third reason: because reading anything in print in 2016 is hard. It’s hard even for seasoned academics, but it’s particularly hard for each new generation of our students. I mean the difficulty of focusing on one thing in the era of distraction, of concentrating our mental resources to read books in the era of screens.

This is the paper I delivered on Monday June 30th at Congress 2016, so there are references to the particularities of that conference. It describes some of the design principles behind “Shakespeare and the Screen,” a course that I’m teaching.
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Model Close-Reading Essay

This is a Model Close-Reading Essay (~500-600 words) for students in my English 311: Shakespeare. For details, see the course homepage. 

Henry V, 1.2.260-98: A Close Reading

This passage consists of thirty-eight pentameter lines, unrhymed except for two couplets (ll.288-89 and 296-97). King Henry addresses an ambassador from the Dauphin, who has sent a gift of tennis-balls and a rebuke of Henry’s claim to the French crown.

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20 Minutes Smarter: Using Stations for Critical Thinking

Like others, I use a template to put together my course outline. It saves time, and it has a nice design (or so I think). It also has standard language about submission policies and academic integrity and laptops and mobile phones in the classroom.

The technology policy usually says something stern about how you don’t need an internet-connected computer for any purpose, and shouldn’t use one for anything in class beyond note-taking. Stay focused, be mindful, eat your proverbial vegetables.

But this time it’s different:

You will make frequent and extensive use of your laptop computer and mobile phone in this class, to annotate texts and pose questions and make preliminary research inquiries — particularly when we are watching films and clips together. But you must at all times be willing to share your screen with others in your groups, and often with the whole class. Please keep your Facebook trolling and Buzzfeed fixes to designated stations and/or break times. You owe it to yourself, and your colleagues, to stay focused on the material at hand.

(I had to add the last part, which says, “Look, I know there are a thousand temptations out there – but let’s agree to concentrate on the task at hand.”)

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Shakespeare and the Screen

For many readers, Shakespeare is the ultimate TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). His texts are full of detailed and archaic language, in contrast to the more immediate gratifications of onscreen media.

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