Welcome to the Shakespeare Lab blog! Blog posts are due on the following Wednesday nights, by 10 pm:
- February 1, 8, 15
- March 1, 22, 29
- April 5, 12, 26
On this post, you’ll find, for easy reference, the list of possible 200-500 word assignments for you to complete. You’ll need to do a different assignment for each week you post, but are free to choose which assignment to do when. Choose from the following:
- Choose a monologue from this week’s play to perform, decide where and how you’d like to perform it, and (maybe with the help of a friend to film you) post a video of your performance. (This blog doesn’t support video, so post on youtube or vimeo and link to the video in your blog post). Then write a brief paragraph or two on the choices you made for your performance, both as an actor and as a “director.” What parts of the monologue seemed especially important for you as a performer? Why did you choose to stage yourself where you did? Were there costuming choices you made? Particular theatrical inspirations?
- Let’s say you’re the director and/or set designer for this week’s play. What’s your staging concept? Is it set in a particular place or a particular historical moment? (Here’s an example of a recent staging choice: director Phyllida Lloyd recently staged Henry IV and in a women’s prison, with an all-female cast.) Write about your staging concept–what is is, and what does this staging add to the play? If possible, include some dramaturgical research–images that will help the audience visualize your intended “look.”
- What can you find out about the ways this play has been staged in the past? For this assignment, you might want to either do a little research about Shakespearian-era production techniques (how might an original production have staged some difficult-to-visualize part of this play), OR you may write about a production you’ve seen in a theater or on film. Do you agree or disagree with the staging choices in question? What do they add to, or take away from, the play?
CLOSE READING/LANGUAGE-FOCUSED ASSIGNMENTS
- Choose a single word (or a set of homonyms, like, in Hamlet, “son” and “sun”) that you see as thematically important to this play. Trace its progress through the text. Where does it get used, and how? When is it used literally, figuratively, metaphorically, punningly? Is there anything that this sort of close attention to a single word tells you about the play that might not be visible otherwise?
- Again, choose a word that seems important to this play; ideally, this word should be one that seems to be used in a way that is a bit unfamiliar to you. Do some research on the etymology and usage history of this word. The Oxford English Dictionary (available as a database on Bobcat) is an especially good resource for this–its usage histories are always helpful as a way to trace which meanings of a word were most common when.
- Is there a particular sentence or passage that is tripping you up? Spend a little time trying to untangle it and put it into words you understand. This may involve looking into alternate meanings of some of the words used, unravelling a complicated syntax (pay attention to verb tenses!), or figuring out what it’s leaving unsaid, as well as what it’s saying. Talk through your process of coming to understand the sentence’s meaning in a short paragraph.
- What is the one passage you absolutely want to talk about in discussion section? Why? Cite the passage and come up with some discussion questions as a place for us to start.
- Think about form in this week’s play. Where does Shakespeare use verse, and where does he use prose? Where does the play rhyme, and how? Romeo and Juliet, for example, contains three embedded sonnets. Why do these forms crop up when and where they do? Do a close reading of a short passage with special attention to the ways Shakespeare is using verse and prose forms in the passage. Why do you think he’s making this formal choice in this place?
CREATIVE WRITING ASSIGNMENT (#1)
- One of my favorite poems is Harryette Mullen’s “Dim Lady,” which translates Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 (“My Mistress’s Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun”) into a contemporary American idiom. Take a look at these two poems–and then try the Harryette Mullen treatment on a passage from this week’s play. (You’ll probably want to keep the passage short–probably no more than 20 lines of verse.)
FINAL (TRICKY!) ASSIGNMENT (ALSO A CREATIVE WRITING ONE)
This is an assignment by way of Maureen McLane, who borrowed it from Jeff Dolven at Princeton (I’ve been given this assignment in a graduate-level class–it’s hard!) For this assignment, you will be tasked with the job of writing a critical paragraph about a play using only language from a passage in that play you choose in advance. For example, let’s say I decide to write about Hamlet using only words from the first 10 lines of the “To be, or not to be” monologue (III.i.749-758). Here’s that passage:
To be, or not to be- that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die- to sleep.
To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!
Here’s how I might turn it into a discussion of some of the play’s major issues:
Being: ’tis not natural. A noble suffers the question devoutly: is flesh heir or arrow to heartache? ‘Tis no more to sleep (a sleep, perchance a wish’d consummation) against the rub of arms and slings. ‘Tis to sleep, to die, to end as “we.” The end is in mind: to be there, to be that. Ay: to die opposing outrageous troubles or to dream of seas and fortunes. That’s to say, to weather the thousand shocks taken by sleep, by and by.