Shakespeare got to get paid, son.

When I told my ENGL 1000 students that the next work we’d be studying was Shakespeare’s Othello, the looks they gave me were… chilling. They might as well have been O himself after hearing that his sweet loving Desi had been a lil’ bit TOO sweet and loving, if ya know what mean.

I like to think that no matter how bad my jokes are, at least somewhere a monkey is laughing.

Here’s the thing: I get that reading Shakespeare can be dull, but that’s because anyone who KNOWS Shakespeare’s stuff KNOWS that his plays aren’t meant to be read, they’re meant to be performed! These plays are so amazing that they’ve lasted for 400+ years, and if a student thinks Shakespeare = weird English words in a really boring book, then obviously they’ve never seen a kick-ass Shakespeare play. So because this blog is about my experience as a grad student, and since I’m a TA who does not want to deal with two weeks of Othello seminars consisting of blank stares and cricket noises, I thought I’d sketch out my teaching game plan here. And thus I present to you:

“Shakespeare Got To Get Paid, Son:” Sarah’s Sketchy Shakespeare Seminars

First, I’ll show them this:

HA! Cuz it's like Shakespeare's a gangster, but you still learn something about how he wrote. But mostly I like the gangster thing.

And then I’ll regale them with tales about how Shakey (as I call him) was in the ENTERTAINMENT business, and he was ALL about drawing in the crowds and impressing them with his word magic. The take away lesson here is that even in a play as dark as Othello (erm), Shakespeare wanted his audiences to enjoy themselves as he led them on this incredible dramatic journey. Then I’ll tell my kids that the first one to find the most hilarious metaphor for sex in Othello gets a prize.

This came up when I googled "excited readers".... it kind of works though, yeah? Albeit creepily. Very creepily.

I’ll then spend the majority of that first seminar going through the play with my students, making sure they understood what actually went down and hopefully getting them to make some analytical connections. At the very end of seminar, I want to take ten minutes to introduce the “Sketchy Shakespeare Activity” which will either make me the best TA ever or get me fired:

I believe that Shakespeare is best when you get to play around with him, and so, for the awesome reward of a +5% overall participation mark increase (and maybe some candy), I’m going to invite my students to prepare a brief, personal, somewhat unorthodox interpretation of Othello. Now, these are first-year university students, so I doubt any of them will be up for performing a scene from the play in front of their peers (if they are though, bully for them and they’ll get the points). What I’m banking on is the fact that their sense of humour is about as immature as my own, meaning that they’ll most likely really respond to the following, which I think is brilliant:


This is the Sassy Gay Friend’s first Shakespearian take, and there is a video for Othello, which can be viewed here (it makes more sense if you’ve seen the Romeo + Juliet one first). I’ll show my students both videos, and then invite them to prepare a similar sketch for next week. Again, I doubt anyone will be willing to perform (but if they do want to, huzzah!), so I’ll just ask them to write a brief script that they can then read aloud to the class. What I really want to see is them interacting with the characters, either cheering them on or similarly asking “WHAT, WHAT, WHAT ARE YOU DOING” (so it’s character analysis, but fun!). I won’t give too rigid a structure, because I want them to be as creative as possible. Finally, in the second seminar that we have set aside for Othello, I’ll open once again by fielding questions that might have come up from that week’s reading/lecture, but then we’ll dive right into what I’m thinking could be a potentially hilarious and memorable discussion of the Bard, of whom I am so very fond.

What do you guys think?

About dontpanictrent

DON'T PANIC: A Trent Graduate Student Blog

7 Responses to “Shakespeare got to get paid, son.”

  1. Consuela from Manila Reply February 22, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Shakespeare is overplayed. We learn about what he wrote, not about what he did.

    In my opinion, people would have a much better understanding of what value he had to our language if instead of just teaching the plays, which are usually little more than direct ripoffs of earlier dramas, it was explained the thousands of words, terms and concepts that he created.

    His writing is not nearly strong or original enough to be given the stature he has, but his words and linguistics are. To teach Shakespeare should be to teach history. It should be to teach etymology. Instead it is just teaching texts. No wonder kids are bored.

    I went through an honours English degree, attended classes entirely devoted to Shakespeare, and was forced to study almost 90% of his plays and sonnets over the course of my schooling. Yet, the only time I learned about why he was actually still valuable to us as a people was after graduating and reading about the etymology of modern English. We need to start looking at a whole different way of teaching Shakespeare. Stop forcing kids to remember the stylings of Iago and Puck and start explaining why those plays changed our world. Otherwise what’s the point?

    • I completely agree that Shakespeare’s creative contribution to the English language is invaluable, but I disagree that he’s overplayed. The reason why his works survived and are still celebrated today is because they are deeply moving works of entertainment. And I’m completely ok with the fact that he’s re-telling stories, because the way he told them was so wonderful. No one does it quite like Shakey, but that’s just my opinion, and to each their own.

      • It makes a lot of sense to talk about the the ‘Bard’ in high and glowing terms because he deserves our joint attention
        in that we all have been exposed to his works and grown /groan up with our evolving views, percepts or precepts which makes his works and our changing appreciations almost a barometer of our maturity. Edward Deverre, the earl of Oxford is most likely the man behind the Nom de Plume, William Shakespeare. Remember ” a rose by any other name would be as sweet” Ed wrote that to remind us of the ‘Ding an sic’ Dunn Scotes view of essence. Bloggers can’t go wrong airing views of the bard because the ideas are all derivative in some way from very rich organic soul/soil.

  2. Edward Deverre, Earl of Oxford, the bard’s identity really explains why his work is so incredible and enduring even the courts of his times when Royals wouldn’t have anything to do with public stagings of plays. They all knew but his great works protected him from retribution of the social kind.

  3. UPDATE: I have never had such a successful seminar. They were so excited by this project! Can’t wait to see what they come up with next week 🙂


  1. One down, Bard. « Wandering Mirages - March 1, 2012

    […] Shakespeare got to get paid, son. ( […]

  2. This is what happens when you let me mould minds: « DON'T PANIC - March 7, 2012

    […] that post I did a while back, on sketching out my lesson plan for teaching Othello to my first year English […]

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