I’m looking at my notes for today’s lesson on the final two acts of King Lear in English Literature Survey course, and I believe that if I made a list of the six most interesting bits I wanted to get to, I’d have missed five of them. I know we were there for seventy-five minutes, but I really can’t remember what ate up that much time.
What we did have was an interesting discussion on tragedy as a dramatic genre. I first went over the Aristotelian formulation and told them to put that on the shelf–more than likely Bill the Bard didn’t have access to it. Then we talked, starting with Greek tragedy and working our way through Roman and into the Renaissance revenge tragedy, about Nietzshce’s theory (I forgot to mention Nietzsche, which I will do next time, but I did use his categories) that tragedy as a genre pulls the elements of Dionysian song, which internalizes and surrenders to chaos, into conflict with Apollonian statuary, which hold chaos at a distance for the sake of walling it off. In our class this took the shape of a discussion on justice and whether the Stoic, Machiavellian, Augustinian, and commercial could ever work together. Now that I think of it, that discussion ranged over most of the class, so perhaps I can forgive myself for the five good bits I lost.
Thursday we start with Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (remember, we’re moving backwards in time), so I should have plenty of opportunity to dig into the Nietzschean theories then.
I realized while planning today’s lesson that, until some of the characters just go devilish on the audience, I have a hard time blaming anyone in King Lear for what comes to pass. On one hand, Regan and Goneril don’t speak up when the old man insists on keeping a 100-man private army after ceding the throne. On the other, with half of Britain to run, I can’t blame either daughter for objecting to Lear’s 100 knights causing trouble in the palace. And while it’s rotten for the daughters to turn the old man out in the storm, they do note immediately afterwards that they would have been happy to house Lear, just not his soldiers.
Now I realize that as acts three and four move along, the play’s traditional baddies move from merely frustrated to openly nasty, but I’m talking about the opening acts here.
I gave good mini-lectures today on the history of the English Bible (because there are so many echoes of Paul in King Lear) and on the changing character of the term “natural” (because a firstborn’s privilege is, in the eyes of Edmund, supernatural and thus nonsense) as we went along, and this class has been wonderful about coming prepared and talking in class. I suppose Jess Walker was right about this (even if she remains wrong about Merchant of Venice): sophomore English and journalism majors make for a fun conversation.
Look for a post on the Enlightenment and religion tomorrow.
Arden: The World of William Shakespeare
Almost thou convincest me to be an online gamer.
I had read about this project, I believe in WIRED magazine, and Mary is taking a technology in education class for her Master’s degree work, so I figured I’d poke around until I found it, and here it is. The original version, designed as it was for Shakespeare geeks, probably only attracted those folks who already watch The Tudors and own at least one Shakespeare action figure. (Don’t hate the messenger–if you’re one of these people, we still love you.) The new version has NPC’s with names from Richard III but other than that plays like a D&D online game. And such is the lovely world of video games and another reason that Neil Postman is probably right about combining education and entertainment.
I still would play if I had the hours. The fact that somebody got a grant for this makes me laugh first, then growl in jealousy… Of course, given that there’s not a single English grad student on the staff makes me realize, once again, that teaching English in an actual college classroom is probably still in the cards for me.