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"An Incarnational Art": Teaching Shakespeare

by Edward L. Rocklin

REVIEWING CHARLES FREY'S NEW BOOK, Experiencing Shakespeare: Essays on Text, Classroom, and Performance for Shakespeare Quarterly, Robert Hapgood notes that the changes in Shakespearean interpretation over the past decade or so have indeed been remarkable. During this time, performance-centered criticism enjoyed a few years at center stage; more recently, the spotlight has shifted to harbingers of the new historicism. Psychoanalysis has made a comeback, especially the pre-oedipal variety; and British cultural materialists are increasingly making themselves heard. Such changes have been coming more and more rapidly. Each year between 1990 and 1985 saw at least one new book on gender in Shakespeare published, most of them representing a sophistication in method over previous ones. The pace of change has been quickened by the popularity of purpose - commissioned anthologies, in which many hands develop various aspects of one or another of the new schools. Clearly some sorting out is in order. Are these new approaches merely trendy, or do they achieve new understandings of Shakespeare's plays? Taken together, do they amount to a fundamental change in Shakespearean interpretation? Or do they simply ramify and accelerate a pluralism that has already prevailed for decades?'

There is an irony here, for in the essay on "Teaching Shakespeare in America," which originally appeared in the 1984 teaching issue of SQ, Frey himself warned how easily performance-centered teaching might be reduced to nothing more than another approach:

In my view, even the turn to performance methods of teaching Shakespeare will yield only minimal gains if, instead of experimenting continually with student-centered performance, Shakespeare teachers settle into the more convenient, less challenging orthodoxies to be found in comparative reviews of television, film, and stage productions.

Yet as Frey indicates, performance methods offer opportunities for rethinking what happens in our classrooms, opportunities that might allow us to reshape radically the relationships between Shakespeare's texts, students, and teachers, But instead of seeing performance-centered criticism and performance-centered teaching as being merely "an approach," and an approach identical in kind with other approaches such as new historicism, psychoanalysis, and gender studies, I suggest that we situate the performance approach in a broader context than the relatively narrow (if very satisfying) discipline of Shakespeare studies. In this other context performance-centered criticism and pedagogy can be recognized as constitutive elements in a much more comprehensive transformation through which new models of theory-in-practice are currently emerging.

In brief, I suggest that performance-centered criticism and pedagogy contain cues for rethinking our theory and practice in more fundamental ways than have so far been perceived or articulated, and that we can respond to such cues only by recognizing how the performance approach has already intersected with two other developments that, for the most part, have not yet entered the general discourse. The first development is the transformation in the teaching of writing and literature that has led composition theorists and literary critics to move from earlier attempts at bridging the gap between their seemingly separate disciplines to current attempts to articulate unified theories of writing and reading. The second development is the transformation in thinking about the relation of theory and pedagogy, so that recent theories include pedagogy as an integral element in that discipline's paradigm.

At the outset I will assume that the arguments for performance-centered criticism of dramatic texts, presented by such well-known figures as Raymond Williams, J. L. Styan, John Russell Brown, Alan Dessen, Philip McGuire, Barbara Hodgdon, Judith Milhous and Robert Hume, 3 and the corresponding arguments for using a performance-centered method to teach dramatic texts, presented by, among others, Miriam Gilbert, Bernard Beckerman, Homer Swander, and Ellen O'Brien, need no rehearsal here.

In the essay that follows, I will fill in the context sketched above; show how the performance approach not only completes but further transforms that context by suggesting a major revision of the proposed unified theory; describe how this revised model also helps transform the traditional relation of theory and practice in the act of teaching; and offer a description of a particular performance activity for teaching A Midsummer Night's Dream to illustrate some aspects of this revised performance-centered model.

The Emergence Of Unified Theories Of Writing And Reading

As I have suggested, unified theories are emerging out of the intersecting developments in the realms of composition and literary studies. Two key moves have driven the explosive growth of theory, research, and practice in composition: the first move has been the focus on the process (or, as we are coming to see, processes) of composition; the second move has been the focus on the context (or contexts) in which this process is enacted, that is on the community of writers within which the individual writer works. It is the combination of these two moves that constitutes the new approach to composition. Far from each step being independent of the other, the shift to the process model of writing demands the development of local writing communities: the liberating focus on process only begins to achieve its full potential when our classrooms become communities for writers to compose in.

The transformation in the study and teaching of literature is in some ways a mirror image of the transformation of composition, for it also starts with reconceptualizing the text and continues with a reconception; of the role of the reader and the community of readers who respond to that text. As recent students of literary criticism have noted, the founding premise and central legacy of the (original) New Criticism was the move of privileging the literary text as a work, which meant seeing it as a complete, free-standing object, a "well-wrought urn." In this way the focus of literary criticism through the 1950s was, like the focus of composition, on the product, not the process. The revolution in literary studies, which spans the whole range of structuralist and poststructuralist criticisms, took place when we moved to reconceive the work of literature as a text. The crucial shift comes first from the recognition that a poem or play or story is the result of a process, and second from the recognition that when seen as a text, not a work, the object of study can be completed only by the performance of a reader. Thus literary criticism has shifted from product to process by beginning to look at the writer as a composer of a text that is also a draft, even as it has also begun to look at the reader as a re-composer who enters into a transaction with the text.

Just as the strength of the composition model has been the focus on the writer-text arc of a complete circuit, the strength of the literary model has been the focus on the reader-text arc of the complete circuit. The transformations in the study of the two realms overlap in their focus on and reconception of the text as both deriving from and being the source of a process; but they diverge in focusing, respectively, on the writer and the reader of that text.

Unified theories are unified precisely by their assumption that writing and reading must be located in the larger process we are coming to call symbolic or interpretive action. Unified theories suggest that the writer must be her text's first reader and hence first interpreter; while the reader must be a text's rewriter and hence a later composer or re-composer of the text, and must become writer-like specifically in attempting to re-create (under one group of theories) or invent (under another) an intention, purpose, or design on the part of the original composer. As one example of such a tentative unified theory, combining a constructivist view of human identity with a transactional view of how texts perform, here is the version proposed by Louise Wetherbee Phelps:

The catalyst for this effort is a deceptively simple step: to extend the dynamic of meaning construction from the composing process to the interpretive acts of readers. . . . This move has momentous consequences, because it changes the root metaphor of composition from that of creation to one of symbolic interaction. . . . The new metaphor leads us to ask how texts effect the joint construction of meaning as a basis for complex negotiations between discoursers over attitude, belief, and action in the world. This metaphoric shift toward a more intersubjective and deeply contextualized view of written language is, I think, the point of convergence toward which much important work in the profession is moving, from very different initial perspectives, sources, and modes of inquiry. 5

It is in the context of this emerging unified theory that I want to place the drama, showing how drama, rather than being some odd peripheral form, actually provides the fullest embodiment of the new theory's vision, so that the study of drama should help us articulate a unified theory.

Drama In Performance: Completing A Unified Theory

Like the transformations in the study of composition and literature, the transformation in drama studies finds one of its starting points in the act of reconceiving the work as text, specifically the type of text called a script (seeing the playtext as a script has always been the starting point in the theatre and in theatre departments). The script, like the text, is incomplete, and that incompleteness can be described both by saying that the script records only the words of the play, not the full physical score, and by saying that the script is the starting point for a larger compositional process by which the actors create a full performance by realizing one set of the potentials inherent in those words.

Seeing the playtext as a script fits the model of a unified theory because the model itself has already posited that all texts, by virtue of their incompleteness , function in ways that are analogous to scripts. Louise Phelps puts it this way: By and large, the model pictures texts as cuing systems designed by writers to shape constructive cognitive activity (and response) by readers. In other words, a text functions like a play script to evoke performances from its readers that are both bound and free, receptive and interpretive. 6

And looking at drama, particularly looking at the movement from script to performance, completes the model because it literalizes and externalizes the scriptlike ways in which all texts function. Or to put it the other way around, looking at how literal scripts function enables us to take a new look at some of the constitutive features of the model proposed by a unified theory.

Perhaps the most useful externalization follows from the way that a play's text has an even more complex relation to its audience than that of a literary text, since the playtext has two sets of readers: the actors, who interpret the text before and during the very act of preparing to perform it, and then proceed to dissolve the text in that performance, replacing the words on the page with their presence and full enactment; and the spectators, who, also present at this event, interpret (which means re-interpret) the now-vanished text as it is embodied in their experience of the performance as a whole. Thus we can rephrase Phelps's formulation as follows: the texts we call scripts function as "cuing systems designed by writers to shape constructive cognitive activity" and inventive corporeal activity by the actors as readers in order for those actors to evoke constructive cognitive and visceral activity (and responses) by the spectators-who themselves must then transform the sights that constitute the performance into a vision. Or in the succinct phrasing of J. L. Styan, when we study a play we have to study "what the text makes the actor make the audience do."' Thus, working with drama in performance allows us some concrete exploration of two processes through which a text operates, namely the process by which text becomes a performance and the process by which the community of readers we call spectators respond to the performed text simultaneously as direct and indirect discourse. We can study at least some of the techniques by which the actors rehearse (the process by which they explore the words as cues for purpose, physical and psychological state, unspoken thoughts, values, com- mitments, and actions) in order to create or arrive at an interpretation of their part and of the play. These techniques, used to discover performance options of the text, can become tools for literary critics in their own differently motivated explorations. And, reciprocally, as we perform such explorations, we can also begin to study the processes by which the text-as-script evokes performances, and how these scripts work in ways that are both constrained and unconstrained, closed and open, mandated and optional. Similarly, when we study what a performance makes the audience do in order to participate in (re)creating meaning, we can see how the spectators must respond to the performance as both direct and indirect discourse. That is, within the onstage dimension, the spectators must respond to the language of interaction between characters as an imitation or virtual form of ordinary or non-literary speech. (This does not mean that the characters have to be speaking ordinary prose, but rather that even if their language is the most stunning poetry, as the language of Shakespeare's characters often is, this poetic speech still performs ordinary language functions.) At the same time, in the other dimension of the performance-audience relation, the words of the play function, as all literary discourse functions, as the form of indirect speech by which the writer speaks to the audience through text-in-performance.

Studying drama in performance, then, becomes an especially powerful means for thinking about the ways human beings use language as symbolic action, from the purely literary to the purely informative and, especially, for discovering how we can make the same words serve both types of purpose at once, or in varying proportions, Shakespeare provides a perfect illustration of the complex nature of a performance as both types of discourse when Hamlet's staging of "The Murder of Gonzago" becomes the means by which Hamlet achieves the non-literary purpose of making another human being inadvertently reveal his guilt while Shakespeare achieves the dramatic purpose of moving his plot towards one of its turning points (when Hamlet stands over the praying king), at the same time using the play to bare the souls of the king and the prince. Studying drama in performance impels us to recognize how speech functions as a form of action even as action functions as a form of speech.

For us as students of Shakespeare, the performance approach works in several ways. Most obviously, as we treat the texts of Shakespeare's plays as scripts, we are learning to explore them in a new way in order to illuminate performance potentials that, in turn, enable us to see how they create meaning in ways we had not recognized before. So as we attend to the theatrical dimension, we can study the performers as readers, look at alternate performance possibilities, explore the non-verbal dimension, and look at the integration of visual and verbal design. Or, as Judith Milhous and Robert Hume have suggested, we can begin discussing the relationship between producibility and validity of interpretation. 8

The study of the range of performance possibilities, for example, is developing so that we are seeing critics write what Cary Mazer has called performance "variorums" for specific plays, in which the critic takes the theatrical record as the means to explore all of the realized performance potentials of the text. 9 For us as teachers of Shakespeare, the performance approach works as we invite our students to explore the text in the same ways we are teaching ourselves to explore it. In addition, the use of the performance approach, even as it becomes most corporeal by taking us into drama as an incarnational art, also returns us to the realm of reflection or critical thinking and especially critical thinking in writing. For using drama in performance approaches, I would suggest, both draws on the process models most fully developed in composition and leads directly to the variety of writing assignments developed by innovative composition teachers. The drama in performance approach draws on the process models because it works by asking students to rehearse a sequence of roles, which include dramatist, director, actor, spectator, reader, reviewer, performance historian, and literary critic. In passing, let me make two claims that I cannot develop in this essay. If my argument that drama completes and extends a unified theory makes sense, then it should also be the case that we can reverse the direction and use the version of the model embodied in studying the text as script to explore unnoticed aspects of how expository and literary texts operate. In particular, we might begin to explore the apparently absent corporeal dimension of expository and literary texts, both in the action of writers and readers. Reciprocally, we need to explore how the logic and potentials of using drama in performance approaches can only emerge when these approaches are placed in the larger context offered by unified theories.

Teaching As Performance: The Place Of Pedagogy In A Unified Theory

There is one other aspect of the emerging unified theory that needs to be added to this discussion of theories that seek to unify composition, literature, and drama: in all three realms, the question of how to teach has moved from a peripheral to a central concern; and whatever unified theories we develop, the question of how we teach will have an integral place.

Teaching has traditionally been seen as an ancillary subject, a question of learning appropriate methods for "delivering" the content that is the real subject of the course. The last decade's work, however, especially in composition and in teacher training, has made it clear that teaching is not separable and subordinate in this way because how we teach shapes what we teach. And with the growth of this focus on how we teach has come the recognition that we must think of teaching as a form of action and as an act of composition. Teaching is not, or not just, the transmission of information, nor is the choice of a method by which to transmit information a neutral decision. The problem with these beliefs has been neatly phrased in John Warnock's recent review of E. D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy:

Professor Hirsch argues that once we know the contents of cultural literacy, we can teach these contents in many different ways. As I see it, this apparent tolerance devolves from an attitude I have seen in more than one subject matter professor; once the contents of a subject are known the means of conveying them are of little significance. I strongly disagree. To take a humble example, the conventions of "correct" usage may be known but how these conventions are taught makes a critical difference to how they are usable by students in their lives, whether as test-takers, or as writers, participants in public discourse. 10

If many of the students who enter our college classrooms seem to have been pacified by twelve or more years of education, then I would suggest it is because much of what they have been taught has been taught in a manner that makes it unusable. If this analysis is correct, then we need to devote even more thought and experiment to our teaching in order to reactivate that natural curiosity, energy, and hunger for mastery in action that the school system has so effectively taught them to suppress.

The crucial point that a fully dramatistic unified model adds to this argument is that the system formed by the students plus the text plus the teacher resembles the system formed by the playtext plus the players plus the spectators much more than it resembles the system formed by either the writer plus the text or the text plus the reader.

The argument of this essay so far can be condensed into the following assertions: (1) that all composition, including literary composition, can be seen as performance by the writer; (2) that all texts, including literary texts, can be seen to function in ways that are at least analogous to, and sometimes identical with, the ways that playtexts function as scripts for their readers; (3) that all reading can be seen as a process of virtual performance; (4) that all teaching can also be seen as a form of performance, so that teachers are, among other things, analogues of the dramatist; and (5) that what the teacher creates or composes is the script of an occasion for students to participate in and learn from a designed experience.

The crucial decision for every teacher, then, is not whether to think of teaching as a type of performance nor whether to use a performance model, since even the classic straight lecture is a performance (it is, of course, a dramatic monologue), but rather to decide (or consciously fail to decide) which type of performance to choose. The choice, that is, concerns the richness of our designs and hence the richness of the potential experience we offer all the participants, not only our students but ourselves. And one way to discuss the range of choices for teachers is to examine the range of theatrical possibilities that runs from the "happening" through sheer improvisation through commedia dell'arte through the classic model of a script-controlled play and on to the other end of a spectrum that includes lectures, sermons, and other forms of transmission. Drama-in-performance approaches tend to operate in that part of the spectrum where the teacher provides a scenario and a guiding focus, but the students provide the energy, the engagement, and most of the discovery. As the process model suggests, the teacher too must take on a series of varying roles, sometimes acting along with her students (writing when they write, giving feedback as they do, sharing drafts with the class), and sometimes playing roles as coach, listener, authority, and evaluator. But while the teacher functions as director, stage manager, and prompter, performing some roles that no student can perform, it is the students who must be the stars if the logic of process-engagement and community- building are to be fulfilled and their own potentials for active learning tapped. This use of a process approach to the text, conceived as operating like a script combined with an approach that makes the classroom a community, is crucial to the model being developed here. The new pedagogy assumes the primacy of the social dimension of learning, and insists, as Karen Lefevre has recently put it, that we and our students dissolve the fallacious idea that "thinking for yourself means thinking by yourself. "11 To paraphrase the title of Lefevre's book, invention is a social act, and the acts we create in our classrooms must be designed to emphasize the social nature of learning in composition, in literature, and in drama. So by asking students to perform as actors in the narrower theatrical sense, the performance approach also provides the opportunity for them to perform as actors in a wider social sense. That is, in order to explore the performance possibilities of a playtext, they must explore the social dimension of the characters who comprise that play's world, and at the same time they must explore their own social world in the collaborative effort with their peers. "Collaborative pedagogy should also attend to the need for [students] to be challenged by inventive environments, to grow beyond personal and collective assumptions about what they can accomplish. 12 If such pedagogical designs are effective, the students, like the readers of texts, will become the co-creators of meaning. And if we create such a community of learners, then the experience created will be more than and richer than the experience that could be imagined or created by any individual, even the teacher. Well-designed scripts, that is, enable our students to be their best, most inventive selves. Such pedagogy, then, challenges us to imagine inventive environments in which we and our students can take the risk of trying out moves we have never performed before. And when we create such inventive environments, we thereby create the best opportunity for our students to discover how all texts are at once the product of choices made by the composer and the stimulus for choices to be made by the reader. The teacher will be engaged in an analogous process as she makes choices about which structures to introduce, which activities to initiate, and what interventions to make once a particular activity is underway. The unified theory proposes a model that offers opportunities for students to learn consciously about choice-making action in writing their own essays, in reading a text, or in exploring a playtext, even as it offers teachers opportunities to continue experimenting with their own action.

An Example Of A Performance Activity: What Does A Prop Do?

I would like to offer an example of how the corporeal and the critical might interact in the sort of pedagogy defined here. I am afraid that either this essay may seem a terribly long way around to frame the specific example, or that this example may seem much too slight an instance to illustrate the sweeping argument presented up to this point. Nonetheless, this sketch may provide at least a glimpse of the model in action.

The class that I am writing about is a senior-level Shakespeare course with twenty-two students, mostly English majors, including several students preparing to become teachers themselves. The two meetings discussed here took place during the middle of a ten-week quarter and were the first and second classes on A Midsummer Night's Dream. I had framed a discussion of genre, plot, and theme by asking them to write in their journals about three questions, repeating the set for each concept: "What is theme? How have you been taught to recognize or find themes in literary texts? What have you been taught to do with themes?" In our opening discussion what emerged was that many of them could not remember ever having been given a clear, explicit definition of what a theme is, nor could they remember ever having been shown how to find or create a theme--although they could, on demand, state "the theme" of the literary texts they read in their courses. Many of them, however, had had an experience like that of the student who had been asked to state the theme of Romeo and Juliet and, having done so, found out that she was wrong. As one student asked, "What is the point of finding a theme, even if you get the right' one, anyway?" We could reformulate the issue thus: "What do you do with themes once you have found them? What can they help you discover further about the play?" For example, I suggested, you can take the claim of Wolfgang Clemen in the Signet edition that "The main theme of the drama namely, the transitoriness and inconstancy of love--is also anticipated in the first scene" 13 and the claim of Frank Kermode in his article on "The Mature Comedies" that "The accusation against Lysander is that he has corrupted the fantasy of Hermia, . . . and the disorders of fantasy (imagination) are the main topic of the play" 14 and ask "What will Clemen's theme allow me to see that Kermode's theme will miss?" or the other way around.

The students also reported that they had found it difficult to state the plot of the play because there were so many different plots. "How many?" "Three," said some, "Four," said others, and they discovered that you get four plots if you separate Theseus and Hippolyta from the four lovers. I noted that many critics claimed there were three plots (Quiller-Couch, for example), but that some critics talked of there being four plots (Bevington in the new Bantam Shakespeare). "What differences does this difference make?" How does seeing three plots help us experience and grasp the play? or seeing four? What does each analysis enable us to do as students of the play?"

I suggested that we suspend these questions and do some performing, which would be another way of getting at these issues as well as getting at another question I ask as we start each play, namely "What does the beginning do?" With several students reading, we concentrated on Theseus and Hippolyta. What the class discovered was that the seemingly innocuous exit line "Come, my Hippolyta; what cheer, my love?" (1. 1. 122) 15 contained a puzzle. "What cheer, my love?" might be a throwaway line, there to help cover the exit. But it might also be triggered by something Theseus suddenly notices about Hippolyta--but what? Working backwards, they saw that the opening lines, with Theseus complaining of how slowly time moved toward their wedding and Hippolyta noting how quickly, had a variety of performances: they might reflect a divergent sense of time expressing a mutual longing for the marriage, but they might also reflect a divergence in the eagerness for the marriage. And once they noticed that point, they also asked, "How does it seem to Hippolyta when Theseus makes her wedding day the day when this young woman might have to die, choose chastity, or accept an arranged marriage to a man she does not love?" In the next class I divided the students into groups, giving group one a red rose, group two a book entitled "The Laws of Athens," and group three the task of doing the scene without any props. They had about fifteen minutes to explore the text, cast the scene, brainstorm how to use the prop, and then rehearse. (As my readers may recognize, my choice of props as well as some of the discussion that follows was suggested by Philip McGuire's excellent chapter on the play in Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare's Open Silences.)

After fifteen minutes, group one began. Here, Theseus and Hippolyta were clearly in harmony in their duet, and when Theseus knelt he handed Hippolyta the rose as he proclaimed, "Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword, . . . But I will wed thee in another key" (11. 16, 18). She held the rose, quietly inhaling its fragrance as Egeus and the others came in and Theseus turned around to deal with them, leaving Hippolyta behind. She grew increasingly unhappy as her husband-to-be sided with Egeus and the law. As her agitation increased, her face set, and she started shredding the rose, petal by petal, plucking slowly, steadily, but with increasing force throughout the long scene. Theseus, having finished his business, now turned eagerly to resume his courtship of Hippolyta, saying "Come, my Hippolyta" and then noticing all the petals and leaves piled up at her feet. Thus his "What cheer, my love?" was the reaction of a stunned man who had had no idea what had been happening behind his back nor of how he had offended his love. "What cheer" drew as a response only her turning away, and they exited together but apart.

In group two's staging, Theseus and Hippolyta entered with their arms around each other. The difference in their sense of time was emphasized by a contrast between the speed of his delivery and the slower pace of hers. This Theseus also knelt for "I woo'd thee," but this time he was interrupted by Egeus, who entered holding "The Laws of Athens" so all could read the title. This Egeus was extremely energetic, passionate in his possessiveness and fiery in his accusations, and he evoked a similar energy from Theseus, whose "Be advised" speech (11. 46-52) was finger-waving at a naughty child, just as Egeus waved the book to enforce obedience. Hermia knelt on "beseech" (1. 62), so that she echoed Theseus kneeling to Hippolyta. Meanwhile, with Theseus seated, Hippolyta stood behind him, doing some ominous foot-tapping of her own, which was a counterpart to Theseus' finger-waving. Hermia slammed the book down to hide its cover; Egeus propped it back up. When Theseus announced that Hermia must make her choice by the day he and Hippolyta sealed their "bond of fellowship" (1. 85), Hippolyta came around to join Hermia. "Come my Hippolyta " got a cool response, as Hippolyta also turned the book down on its face. They exited aloof from one another. Finally Lysander, who had been holding it, put the book down as he exited. The last group, perhaps because they were aware of being "propless," presented the most physically active of the three performances. Theseus and Hippolyta started out quietly but seemingly evenly matched, equally strong, and happy. Again, Theseus was quick, Hippolyta slower. Demetrius, the tallest figure, was played as a bumpkin, shaking his head with a big grin when Egeus praised him, nodding vigorously when Egeus attacked Lysander, and so on, while Lysander, short but very macho, stood with hand on hip, exasperated, and then paced, ready to deck Demetrius. As Theseus began his "Take time to pause" speech (1. 83), Hippolyta went to stand by Hermia, put her arm around her, and stayed there, publicly challenging Theseus' authority. He responded by advancing, as if to reach out for her, and she retreated. Meanwhile, Demetrius pulled Hermia to his side and Egeus kept himself between Hermia and Lysander. Theseus stressed "Which by no means we may extenuate" (1. 120) as a warning, and then said commandingly, "Come, my Hippolyta!" When she did not respond, he paused, stopped, and looked at Hippolyta, who still did not move, Theseus exited, and she followed but only after Egeus and Demetrius.

With the completion of the three performances (and I have omitted much of the detail, including a splendidly whining Helena in this last group), I asked the students to write in their journals, focusing on the questions (1) What did they discover by going through this process? (2) What was most striking about each group's performance and use of its prop? and (3) What does a prop do? In the ensuing discussion, rapid-fire and barely giving us time to record the points, they formulated a number of ideas. They were intrigued by the variety of things they could do with the prop, and they talked about how differently each prop was used within a scene, as well as how many ways they imagined using it before making their production choices. They were surprised at the way the prop could change the text; with the rose, for example, they suddenly saw that there were flowers everywhere, and they also saw how certain parts of the text leapt into prominence with a prop on stage, as if the prop served to underline (or, as Alan Dessen would say, italicize) part of the text. They were struck by the potential for nonverbal action to pervade the scene and transform character relations; they discovered how the prop made all types of nonverbal communication possible and impelled the spectators to connect characters like Hippolyta and Helena who were not even onstage at the same time. This aspect of the prop also made them more vividly aware of how much nonverbal communication could take place even without a prop, through the actor's gestures and address, and how radically the visual dimension can alter the apparent meaning of the text.

As we moved into discussing other options for using the prop, we also reconnected with the issue of "What does a theme do?"--which could be reformulated as "How does the opening of the play enact its theme or impel the audience to formulate a specific theme (or specific version of the theme)?" So, as we explored other possibilities, the students wondered if the play is about the battle between men seeking to reassert hierarchical control and women seeking equality. Should the rose only belong to the women? Should Hippolyta enter with it, pass it to Hermia, for example, who could pass it to Helena? Similarly, they discovered that if the play signals itself as a comedy, and a comedy about harmony, then the rose becomes an important means for shaping the function of Theseus and Hippolyta in the play: how they are played creates a difference in whether the spectators see three plots plus a frame or four separate plots. So we could ask, if Theseus and Hippolyta are initially in harmony but then separated by Theseus' support of Egeus and the law of Athens, then what is thematized by this performance? Then all the couples are sundered, so that there is no harmony, and we have to wonder if and how any will be restored. Whereas, if the ducal couple stay in harmony, then they are the ideal, and we wonder if or how the others will achieve the same harmony. And each performance will in turn raise issues about choices of the way harmony is created or restored at the end of the play.

Discussing the performance with the book, they explored a number of options that the group itself had not imagined. What happens if the characters actually read over the laws? Does Theseus, for example, find the third part of law only by rereading a statute cited by Egeus? Or even by looking elsewhere in the book, which would tend to indicate that he is trying to find a way out for Hermia? Thus another interpretive issue emerged, namely is Theseus threatening Hermia or trying to give her real room? And they discovered that we can ask "Who does Theseus say the third option to? and in what manner? In particular, is the line "by no means extenuate" played neither to Hermia nor to Lysander nor to Egeus but to Hippolyta because Theseus has seen her growing anger and alienation, and is pleading with her? What if he gives her the book? What can happen? In response to my third question, "What does a prop do?" they enumerated a variety of ways that these props had, in fact, functioned. But they also discussed the way that each prop, which seemed at first merely to literalize some cue in the text, could, in turn, transform their relation to the text and transform the meaning they created through the text. Props, they discovered, can stimulate the actors' invention, so that they discover open possibilities in the text, and these inventions can lead them to create new performance possibilities. This sequence also triggered another illuminating moment for me as a teacher. One of the participants, who is herself about to start her student teaching, told me how much she had resisted doing this exercise, how impatient she was to ask questions about the recently assigned term project, how angry she was at me because she could not see the point of continuing with the activity. "I've felt this way every time you start one of these activities: you never tell us where we are going, or why we are doing the activity, and I always resist it, and then once we are doing it I like it, and when we discuss it I discover so much." I suggested to her that she might want to make a note in her journal when she experiences that resistance, so that she can live it through, see what happens, and have her own memories fresh when her students resist her activities--as they will.

I end my account of this class here because one of the most fundamental issues in thinking about any pedagogy, as far as I am concerned, is how we analyze and respond to our students' resistance. My own preference is to see resistance as an integral part of the learning process, not a sign of our students' apathy, ignorance, or refusal to learn, although some of their resistance may indeed spring from these motives. But in both theory and practice, at least some of the teaching strategies that follow from the model offered in this essay ask people to take risks and therefore inevitably prompt resistance. The question, then, is how to validate that resistance and yet not give in to it, but rather make it an integral part of the process by which we invite engagement with Shakespeare's texts.

1  Volume 40 (1989), 228-30, esp. pp. 228-29.

2  Volume 35 (1984), 541-59, esp. pp. 557-58.

3  Drama in Performance (New York: Harmondsworth, 1972); The Elements of Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1960); Discovering Shakespeare: A New Guide to the Plays (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1981); Elizabethan Stage Conventions and Modern Interpreters (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984); Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare's Open Silences (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1985); "Body Play/Head Play/Performance Work," paper given at the Shakespeare Association of America annual meeting, I I April 1987, Seattle, WA; Producible Interpretation: Eight English Plays 1675-1707 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1985).

4  "Teaching Dramatic Literature," Educational Theatre Journal, 25 (1973), 86-94; "Some Problems in Teaching Shakespeare's Plays as Works of Drama" in Teaching Shakespeare, Walter Edens et al, eds. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1977), pp. 305-16; "In Our Time: Such Audiences as We Wish Him," SQ, 35 (1984), 528-40; "Inside Shakespeare: Using Performance Techniques to Achieve Traditional Goals," SQ, 35 (1984), 621-31.

5  Composition as a Human Science: Contributions to the Self- Understanding of a Discipline (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 162-63.

6  p. 166, italics added.

7  p. 2.

8  Cited in note 3, above.

9  See "Shakespeare, the Reviewer, and the Theatre Historian," SQ 36 (1985), 648-61, esp. p. 651.

10  Review in College Composition and Communication, 38 (1987), 486-90, esp. p. 489, italics added.

11  Quoted in Patricia Bizzell, review in CCC, 38 (1987), 485-86, esp. p. 485

12  Bizzell, p. 486.

13  A Midsummer Night's Dream, ed. Wolfgang Clemen (New York: New American Library, 1963), p. xxxiii.

14  Chap. 10 in Early Shakespeare, John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris, eds. (New York: Edward Arnold, 1961), pp. 211-28, esp. p. 214.

15  Quotations of Shakespeare's plays are taken from The Riverside Shakespeare, G. Blakemore Evans, ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

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