A Midsummer Night's Dream
My Introduction to Literature class is wrapping up this play tonight. This has been a tricky comedy to teach. You have four plotlines, the trippy fairies, and the whole Bottom-gets-turned-into-an-ass thing to juggle. I can tell most of them glazed over during Act III as if this was this strangest thing they'd ever been asked to read in a college classroom.
When teaching Shakespeare, I love setting the stage with talks of the Renaissance, the Globe, the Authorship Question, the History of the English Language (AKA Why can't I understand a dadgum word anyone is saying?), etc. But this play also gives you the opportunity to discuss Greek myths with Theseus and Hippolyta as well as British faerie lore.
But, let's be honest, these "talks" are really lectures. I tell stories and act out battles. They laugh and nod appreciatively, but they're not coming to any knowledge independently. I have to hold their hands so much during Shakespeare that I find it difficult to let go and allow them to try and apply, analyze, and create new knowledge. This is easier with Hamlet or even Romeo and Juliet. The themes of tragedies give themselves over to deeper discussions of depression, suicide, and the meaning of life.
The comedies, though, are about love. This is one of the many reasons I treasure teaching in the humanities department, where we think deeply about what makes us human. You're not going to talk about love in any other class in college. What a gift. What a privilege to take a few hours and discuss the most important part about being human, the one thing we're all seeking - love.
But students who only see one another once a week don't want to discuss relationships in front of a bunch of strangers. Most of them have certainly lived enough and understand enough about love to laugh at Shakespeare's jokes about dream-like infatuation and the arbitrary nature of love (thus the appreciative nods I mentioned above).
They get it. Now I'm struggling with how best to help them express their understanding in a safe way. Perhaps online writing prompts that only I read? Perhaps online discussion boards thus making everyone feel safer behind their screens? Perhaps an in-class writing prompt before we begin the play to get them thinking about these themes?
I'm still brainstorming about more ways for students open up, analyze, and apply questions of love. A teacher's job is never done.