Shakespeare: tragedy, comedy…and this.

william-shakespeareWhile getting my sophomore English classes ready to tackle Julius Caesar, we spend time wrapping up our unit on poetry with some Shakespearean sonnets, and then dive into a two-day crash-course in Elizabethan English, in part using a series of Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English ‘cheat sheets’. It makes for a nice segue from unit to unit and I have discovered that a few days focused on learning the language is worth the effort from a comprehension in reading plays standpoint.

Some classes really get into it, some don’t – but there is one particular phrase that we always have some issues with: ho.

From one of our Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English glossaries:
ho—hey (roughly equivalent). “Lucius, ho!” [Brutus calling his servant]

There is, of course, some tittering the first couple of times this is said, but it is a very common phrase in Shakespearean language, and very soon the snickering becomes a natural, more comfortable, street-inflected ‘Hoe’ as opposed to the Elizabethan ‘Ho’!

juliuscaesar1953“Lucius, ho!”
“Lucius! Hoe! Come hither”!

The distinction is not very subtle, and adds a whole different layer of linguistic oddity to my sojourn through the Bard, as there is a vast difference between summoning someone and calling someone…

something like that.

Thou hast noooooo idea.

I always end our pre-Caesar week by having my students rewrite one of their daily start-of-class journal entries into a Shakespearean epic – and the efforts are, frequently, epic in nature. The rewrite comes from a prompt I use where I have students imagining or remembering a weekend outing with a friend, including a lot of dialogue. After the writing, we then share some of the results out loud – usually to a mixture of laughter and bewilderment, whether they read what they have written or have me do it.

Here are some of my favorite dagger-stabs at Shakespearean ignominy and glory – verbatim from student papers.


“I stood wall-eyed, “Whence did thee get that zany idea” I said, lapsed. “Thou art mad” I informed him. He discourses. “Thou shouldntst hark. I woo her”. I cursed him. I shook my head. “What are thee going to dost? Thee have a foe”’.

Heavy, he said “I know, come hither. Thou art verily something”. Balked and mated, he didn’t have the addiction of discourses words such as these”.

I am quite sure of that, actually. I think.

edwinbooth“Today, Friday the 13, my friends and I heard tidings that we had to go appoint to the mall for some hours”.

“My best friend hark me Friday, doth thee went to hie eat out”.
“Perchance, an I doth not have anything

 

 

 

to doth”.

For which we can all be grateful, I suppose.

This next one is from a kid who rarely writes more than a sentence or two…again verbatim:

“It’s Friday e’en, methinks perchance I should call my friend to see an thee wants to skate. Methinks also about thee girlfriend.  An thee hie hither, thee nots going to have a ride back home. I should privy the mom for a ride back home, but that’s too much. Adieu that idea, so thee calls my friend to come over. Soft, I left thee board in thee mom’s car”.

Hopefully, she’ll find it and give it back to the kid.

Some stray entries from our you-have-to-admire-the-honesty (HATH) department:

HATH #1 “Oft my morrow I am alone and maybe retired because I am an introvert. But were to I discourse and visit with my friends, we off hie to World Market and Barnes and Noble”.

HATH #2 “Today I shall couch. I fancy some chicken for today. Perchance even some tacos. Were I for my dad wrought me the money. I don’t want to woo a job with my friend”.

HATH #3 “Twas a quaint morrow and methinks of a cunning idea. The idea was to mate with a friend”.

The writer of HATH #3 and I had to have a little, um, sidebar conversation.

Moving on, and as many of my New Orleans students and colleagues frequently say, “We were conversating”:

We couldn’t think of anything to do. So finally something came to me.

Hitting a bowling strikeCarla: Natalie, I thought of something
Natalie: Aye
Carla: Hark, the bowling alley.
Natalie: Perchance.
Carla: Okay because I couldn’t think of anything.

 Later that e’en we got dressed and my mom brought us.

Natalie: I bet I can rap a strike before thee
Carla: Methinks not.

 

Hair is always a popular topic with my students. ‘going Shakespeare’ changes that not.

hair“It’s like this every Saturday night. Addiction hath I curl my hair. We go out after about two hours of unpregnant babbling”.

“This Friday I’m going to doth my best friend hair
It’s going to take all day but I don’t care
Thee will hie to the movies
whence everything is groovy”.

 

Stupendous efforts, all. But nobody else went quite in this direction:

One young woman, a very good, prolific writer, allowed me to read her lengthy and detailed entry, which centered on her mother, who suffered from a long-term illness,  giving her and her friends money to drive to a neighboring community to run an errand.

“Speaketh to Mary, Liz, Kenny and Jame” I told her as we got onto the bus. Charlene nodded, pulling out her cellphone and texting all the names listed. I called mother telling her we’ll clean the home, also that we made plans for the morrow. Mother insisted we’d deliver money to Sir Bradley for some of his homemade brownies”.

 

She went on, making good use of ‘forsooth’ and ‘hither’ among others in describing their nervousness in being followed (innocently and coincidentally, it seems) by a police officer as they returned home with the purchased baked goods from a neighboring suburb.

I read the entire piece, looked at the girl, asked if the story was true. She nodded. “Really? YC&Cfiberonebrowniiesou drove that far for brownies? Those kind of brownies”?

“You knew what I meant”?

“I grew up in the sixties and seventies. I know exactly what kind of brownies you meant.”

“Cool”.

Verily. Shakespeare with my students always is.

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Week #1

It’s time to play first week Jeopardy! The category is ‘Mr. Lucker’s Speech class’ for $400.

“An old form of texting, it’s nonverbal and they are using symbols to communicate.”

anoldformoftexting

“What are…’hieroglyphics and cave paintings’.”

“You are correct!”

If I were Alex Trebec that’s how it would’ve gone down. I had my speech students working in their pods (small groups) covering the different aspects of communications as noted in the first chapter of our text. Each group had a different segment of the chapter to report back to the full group with, and the four fine folks at pod six came up with the above; ‘an old form  of texting.’

Though, alas, not in the form of a question.

As they had not presented verbally, I didn’t notice the explanation until I was posting the visuals each pod had produced.

This was certainly a step up, intellectually, from day one.  When asked why they were taking speech class, one student’s tospeakgoodererresponse was delivered without irony or humorous inflection: “To speak gooderer.” On the other end of the spectrum was pod six, which came up with ‘Integrating the proper tone, grammar and vernacular to the given social or non social occasion’.

Sure.

The year got off to a nominally screwed up start a week ago Friday, with two of our new, first year teachers having to sit out the first day because their paperwork had not cleared at the district office. They were both with us all week at professional development, got their rooms set up, were rarin’ to go…but were not allowed to do so, necessitating subs on the first day. Both had been hired in July, per an email we had received informing us and asking that they be welcomed, so not exactly a last-minute situation. Just a dumb situation.

At the end of the day, one of the two newbies, a young woman we’ll call Ms. Z, was in her room next door to mine setting up. As I was about to ask her what was going on, one of our old-line French teachers, Ms. B, walked up with the same question – as Ms. Z wasn’t supposed to be there. Seems Ms. Z had gotten a call from the district office just after lunch informing her that her paperwork had indeed cleared, she was officially and legally employed, and she could go in and set up to prepare for Monday.

Oh, they also told her that they had not yet had a chance to call her school, so her principal “might be a little surprised to see you.” Ya think? When I related this anecdote to the principal the following Monday morning, she confirmed the somewhat Byzantine chain-of-communication within the district offices.

IonescoplaysAs Ms. Z was relating the story of her welcome-to-teaching and district bureaucracy, Ms. B the French teacher (a twenty-plus year vet) just shook her head, and turned to walk away. “Mr. Lucker” she said with a sigh, “Sometimes I feel like I’m living in an Ionesco play!” I laughed heartily which caused her to comment over her shoulder, “I knew an English teacher would laugh at that.”

She was not being ironic.

This past Monday, day two, provided me with the honor of breaking up the first fight of the year. On the grounds, during lunch. I wasn’t even technically on lunch duty any more but was simply walking back to my classroom to eat when I was frantically summoned by another teacher – a petite young woman who solemnly stated “I don’t do fights” as I waded into the crowd to find two young women tussling on the ground, punches flying. I stepped between them, gently hip checked one to the side to separate them, then grabbed an arm of each, holding them at bay from one another. With the help of other staff members, we eventually got them to the discipline office. Both ended up with suspensions, one made be expelled. All for fighting over…

…a third young woman.

First time for everything.

Aside from that, it was a fairly uneventful week on my end of things. My wife and two sons also had their first weeks go fairly smoothly at their respective schools – no small feat with one son beginning his senior year, the other his freshman year. I did get some student-teacher feedback during one of our nightly ‘good thing/not so good thing’ dinner time check-ins.

In regaling my family with tales of getting to know my two classes of seniors, I related how I had already had to give both daysinngroups my sleeping-in-class speech. “You want to sleep in this class? Don’t. You want to sleep, get a room at the Days Inn. Does this look like a Days Inn to you guys? Do you see ugly drapes and stiff carpeting?”

This caused eldest son Will to comment ruefully, “Oh no…you’re one of those! The creepy teacher with the random stories that are supposed to have a meaning but just sound…weird and creepy.”

Annnnd, we’re off.