Last night I downloaded, “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” by Shakespeare and Fletcher. Really? What could that possibly have to do with Williamsburg? I think I’m a closet Shakespeare fan and it has everything to do with Williamsburg. Perhaps the fates have looked favorably upon my literary upbringing.
The first time I was exposed to the Bard was at Busch Gardens. Some adult thought it would be a good idea to watch a play at the Globe Theater instead of getting soaked on the Log Flume. At the time I’m sure I pouted like the day I lost recess because of class pictures. Evidently, there is evidence of that meltdown floating around Facebook somewhere… Anyway, I remember being amazed by the witches and disappointed that they weren’t in the play more. Still, though, The Old Country was the start of something.
Fast forward to high school, ninth grade to be exact. There was another meltdown, this time at Mrs. Billcheck’s expense. The truth of the story, since she is not here to help clear things up, was that Mrs. Billcheck thought she should be allowed to teach without having to baby sit an ignorant freshman boy who was trying to impress everyone with his pseudo James Dean act. The nerve of her, right? For the record, I sent Mrs. Billcheck an email apologizing for my petulance and asked her to lift her curse on me as I now teach ninth graders and on the day of my penance, I could have used a break in the way the day was going. Through a goat renting, Kissenger like emissary, she accepted my apology, but I’m still waiting on that curse to be lifted. Anyway, she got me started with Romeo and Juliet. The play became way more interesting when we watched the video in class (remember the big Discs..?). I’ve even used the play to help teach my health classes, drugs, suicide, violence, relationships. I mean, really, how great is it that the play essentially starts with an obscene gesture? Be careful who you bite your thumb at…
Next on the tragedy parade was Julius Caesar with the one and only Mr. Poland. My main memory of the play was the project and the value of Cliff Notes. I was still in the angry teen phase, but Mr. Poland had a way putting my school angst at ease. I don’t know if it was the old drama room, the smelly costumes, or the freedom to banter that made his class so cool, but I know that his presence in 10th grade English was enough to get me to do the drama class for two years. I count those three classes as some of the most fun I ever had in education. As a teacher, I wish I had the space and the time to be able to do the kinds of things we did in his class. Desks were an option, life lessons in the form of Jack’s ranting soliloquies, and the absolute honesty of his criticisms on assignments and performances were important parts of my growing up.
Eleventh grade English is a bit of a mystery for me. Mr. Franke was my teacher, but I’m not sure if we read any Shakespeare. I am sure of two things. First, we read a play/story about the Scopes trail. Second, we had a student teacher. Sorry, Mr. Franke, I was quite distracted.
Finally, senior year and Mrs. Fuchs. In between reading the Bible and taking quizzes on the “SAT Word of the Day,” I’m pretty sure we read Hamlet and MacBeth in her class. By then the language of the plays was becoming more clear and I was getting better at recognizing the humor in the plays. Then we read Othello and that was it for me. I was hooked on Shakespeare and every now and then I like to read some of his plays and poems.
Busch Gardens and Lafayette High School started something that has allowed me to appreciate Shakespeare’s works. I took in a performance of Othello with my mom at William and Mary, which I appreciated more than seeing Kansas with her. I sat outside of a coach’s classroom at Walsingham and listened to him lecture about symbolism in Shakespeare just because I had time to kill. I got what he was saying because of the efforts of the teachers at Lafayette. Now, as I get ready to read “The Two Noble Kinsman,” I can sit down and enjoy Shakespeare.