Saturday, 25 September 2010

Beth Versus Shakespeare

Hi and welcome to my blog. Whether you're reading this for the first time, or checking back in as a repeat visitor, do me a favor and click the "follow" box on the right of the screen. Please and thank you. I could really use some more followers.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, there will be several references to Shakespeare. Apparently he's famous here in England. Sarcasm intended. Don't worry. I won't attempt to write this post in Iambic pentameter.

Channeling my Inner Shakespeare...

I'll start with a thought presented to us during one of our first lectures. Shakespeare penned his now famous works alone in a room. He'd sit there and put his thoughts to paper. We were told that while writing our essays here, we'd be doing the same, and thus we are all very much like Shakespeare. So technically, while blogging, I'm channeling my inner Shakespeare. That's an amusing thought, considering I'm sitting here in sweatpants, with my snuggie on, sipping hot chocolate. I bet Shakespeare was more of a coffee and Chia pet kind of guy...

Stumbling on Shakespeare...

On a more serious note, as it turns out, the pub my friends and I went to last week, The Crown, actually has a connection to Shakespeare. You see, Oxford is located in the middle of Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born, and London, where Shakespeare put on a great deal of his plays, so when traveling between the two places, he'd rest in Oxford and would stay at a hotel called The Crown. He was very good friends with the owner. As it turns out, the site where the hotel used to be is actually an office building now, but a little known fact, even for Oxford residents, is that if you peel back the curtains that line the walls of the office building, you will see hand-painted walls. The best room of a hotel in Shakespeare's time would have had painted walls and he would have stayed in the best room. Therefore, we can conclude with a high degree of certainty that the office building used to be the room where Shakespeare stayed. I actually got to see the inside of the room. It was pretty cool, especially because most people don't even know about it. Anyway, across from the hotel was a pub, also called The Crown, which is where Shakespeare would have eaten and had a couple drinks while staying in Oxford. Well, maybe more than a couple... There is currently a pub called The Crown on that same site, which happens to be the one we ate at last week before we knew it's historical significance. Most people don't know about the historical significance of the pub or the room. It is certainly not well-documented, nor is it posted outside of the buildings. However, one of our tutors, is very knowledgeable about Shakespeare and clued us in on this well kept secret.

Visiting Shakespeare...

On Tuesday, we are scheduled to travel to Stratford-Upon-Avon. This past week we went to London to see Henry IV Part I at the Globe. The current setup of The Globe is the same as it was in Shakespeare's day. Some people stand around the stage and at various parts of the play, the actors actually push their way through the crowd to get to the stage. There is also a balcony. Our seats were on the lower level, so probably the best ones in the house. Though the best seats in the house, in true Elizabethan style, the seats are actually wooden stadium-style benches, so if you're smart, you'll pay the one pound to rent a seat cushion before the play starts, or else you'll be very uncomfortable by the time it's through. Another fun fact is that since the seats are in the original arrangement, you'll most likely have the person behind you's knees in your back the whole time because in Shakespeare's time 5 foot 5 inches was considered tall, so the benches were placed much closer together. Not so fun for the 21st century guy who is at least 6 feet tall. I lucked out and sat in the back row, so I had a wall behind me, not someone's knees. The seating wasn't so bad. If you can survive sitting on the steps of the brick pit at Hendrix during shirttails, sitting through a play at The Globe is a walk in the park.

I really enjoyed seeing the play. It's no secret that Shakespeare is an aquired taste, one that I have yet to acquire a taste for..., but seeing the play definitely sparked my interest. It's not that I don't like Shakespeare. The themes in his work are timeless and I greatly appreciate them, but I am a product of my generation and my generation largely prefers No Fear Shakespeare over the original text. I believe the reason for this is that most students are not familiar with Old English slang and if you can't understand the jokes when reading his plays, then Shakespeare's comedies aren't so funny. The other thing is "reading." So often high school English teachers have their students "read" Shakespeare's plays. I agree that students should be exposed to Shakespeare (and many other authors,) but I think a better approach than assigning roles for each member of the class to read, would be to experience the work in its intended medium: the play. Take the kids to see it on stage! Shakespeare already has a reputation among high school students as being boring and if kids can't understand it, they will lose interest even faster. Furthermore, the average high school student won't necessarily read the lines with their intended inflection, thus another opportunity for meaning to be lost. The point is, let the writers write, leave the acting to the actors and let the students be students. Let them learn and please know that not all learning needs to come from a classroom or a textbook. Take it from someone who is studying abroad. There's a whole world out there. Let the kids see it. It certainly worked for me. Seeing the play, especially in the atmosphere of The Globe, gave me a new perspective. What I'd missed out on by reading the play, I gained by seeing it. Seeing the actors in costume, watching their body language, seeing their gestures, and hearing their tone added so much to the experience. That could not be achieved by simply reading the text, which is why I believe Shakespeare's intended medium was the play. As a prose writer myself, my job is essentially the opposite. When writing a story, my job is to describe the costumes, the body language and the character's tone. A lot of that is lost on the average person who tries to read a play. And I will say this, a play is multi-dimensional. Reading is one dimensional. So the problem I have with becoming frustrated with Elizabethan slang and Old English was not a problem when listening to the dialogue of the play because I was not only listening, I was watching and the combination of the two made it all make sense. However, most kids don't get to actually see the plays they are required to read in English class, which is why I believe No Fear Shakespeare is so popular. On the one hand, it's great. It helps students get the gist of what it going on and it makes the text available to a wider, more modern audience. However, I think more effort should be placed on helping students understand the historical context of the play. Rather than modernizing Shakespeare to fit our needs, let's expand our horizons and learn about his world. Otherwise, if this trend continues, by the time I have kids, the line "Romeo, Romeo, where fore art thou, Romeo?" will be changed to "Romeo, Romeo, where you at, my homie, yo?" which simply cannot happen. I'll save my rant about my generation's use of grammar for a later post, but know that when I hear "where you at?" among other phrases, I cringe, literally.

Researching Shakespeare...

I mentioned in my last post that I will have to write a 4,000-5,000 word paper as part of my Introductory Course. Originally, I had planned to write about the impact of sport on Elizabethan society and I actually did some really interesting research on it. However, the "open-ended, write whatever moves you so long as it pertains to Elizabethan or Victorian England" paper topic was not as open-ended as I'd hoped and now I'm writing about how Shakespeare used images of sport within his works. At first, I wanted to go throw myself into the Thames, but after some careful thought, I think I managed to find a way to merge the research I had already done with the research I have left to do. As I hinted at in the previous section, I believe one should have a relatively good historical understanding before approaching Shakespeare's texts in order to fully appreciate them. How can you appreciate the way in which Shakespeare uses sport? Well, you need to know what sports were around in Elizabethan society and how they were perceived. Translation: I can use some of my research at the beginning of my essay to establish context.

(I was told once by one of my college English professors that out of all his students I have the uncanny ability to pull something out of nothing and somehow make it work. Dare I say I've done it again? I'd rather be able to pull something out of nothing than nothing out of something, but really what all this means is something I've known for a long time. I'm not a cookie-cutter English major. I have unique interests in comparison to my peers, sports being one of them, wearing sweatpants to class instead of skinny jeans being another.)

**Fun yet pointless aside: While trekking through the rather large library today looking for a book I needed about Shakespeare, I saw an college anatomy and physiology textbook with Apolo Anton Ohno on the cover. I took that class freshman year. Why couldn't we have used that version?

Here's some fun facts about sports in Elizabethan England.

1. Soccer, or football as it is called by the rest of the world, including the Brits, was considered "barbaric" and "classless," which is kind of funny since it is now one of the beloved sports of England. Basically, no nobles or royalty during this era would have played soccer. They did "noble" and "honorable" sports like hunting and tennis.
2. Henry VIII played real tennis which is different than tennis. One of the main differences is you can hit the ball off walls and such. I actually got to see the oldest real tennis court when I visited Hampton Court Palace. That court is booked every day of the year except Christmas.
3. The games played after Christmas and before Lent were significantly more aggressive. (Games were seasonal back then, not year round like most sports are today.) The aggressive sports were saved for the spring as a way to release all the energy men had from being cooped up in the winter and a way to let it all out before Lent started and they had to be on their best behavior. (I say men becuase women didn't play sports...don't even get me started on the reasons why.)

The women not being able to play sports because their place was in the home and they were physically weaker than men (which most at the time connected to a dimished mental capacity a.k.a. the men thought they were smarter than the women, a thought which has not completely gone away even centuries later, case and point the attitude of the majority of the guys in my high school graduating class...) brings me to my Travel Woes and Travel Pros section.


I found a gym! It's not as nice as the WAC, so I've had to be a little creative when following my training program.

The Woes?

The heavy weights section is rather small to begin with and even though I tried to go when the gym was not so busy, there was always inevitably some guy using the bench I needed. The funny thing was instead of being self-conscious about being the only female among a bunch of guys, the whole time I kept thinking "man, I'm the only American among a group of Brits and all these weights are in kilograms." (There's a reason my coach last season tried to eliminate all math from my weight lifting... and that was without having to convert pounds to kilograms. It's 1 pound equals 2.2 kilograms, by the way. I do know it. Actually making use of it is another story.) I'm used to lifting with guys. I don't think these guys are used to lifting with a girl :)

The Pros (continued)


Which brings us to the corresponding Woe...

AT&T: We bought the most comprehensive package possible before I left. I'm talking as much internet as I could get, "unlimited" texts between my mom and me, and free calls between the two of our phones since we both upgraded to the international plan, so calling each other was supposed to be free. NOPE. (Is AT&T related to RadioShack or has honest marketing just gone out the window entirely?) P.S. still no refund from RadioShack...never taking my business there again. Basically, we found out last week that we only get 50 free texts between the two of us a month, which is NOT what the salespeople said. Notice I said people, as we went into the store twice and spoke to two different customer service reps. The calling is also more expensive than what we were told it would be.

Why is it that when you try to be prepared before going abroad, you inevitably aren't? We did our research. We asked the experts. Now that I'm here, they're singing a different tune and I don't particularly care for it.

Marketing 101: keep the customer happy. That's what Shakespeare did. He had to keep the monarchs happy and pass their censors. Customer service certainly worked for him.

And on that note, I'll remind you once again to please follow my blog and I'll conclude with my favorite British expression. Cheers. (You'd be surprised at how many uses it has here.)

1 comment:

  1. Skype saved my life when I was studying abroad. It is amazing how a simple program can help anyone to share any important event of their lives with the people they want no matter how far away they are.