Teaching Shakespeare through media

Niels Herold, associate professor in the English department, presented a lecture as part of this year’s College of Arts and Sciences themed lectures. This years theme, “Cracking the Code,” originally came with the lecture titled “Teaching Shakespeare Through Media.”

Herold, however, felt as if he could narrow down the theme of the lecture much more. His new idea, “Teaching Through Slings and Arrows” was presented on Nov. 11. It centers around educating others on the modernization of Shakespeare and how one show in particular shows the ways that Shakespeare should be portrayed.

About 40 minutes of clips from the Canadian television drama “Slings and Arrows” were shown. The show follows a failed actor as he took over as artistic director for a small theatre.

The lecture followed three seasons of the show, touching on the various ways in which the characters within the show portrayed different Shakespearian characters.

The point of this lecture was not just to watch episodes of a television show, however. Herold talked extensively on how changing Shakespeare’s language in the contexts of his own works wasn’t a good thing, according to some scholars.

“How much alteration can be done until it’s no longer Shakespeare?” he asked the audience.

His biggest critique was that it “was a waste of money and talent” to put Shakespeare’s words into more modernized ones, because the heart of the problem wasn’t that the difficulty of the texts at hands, but that the actors needed to understand the reasons why they were so complex.

Herold said that according to some scholars, “[Shakespeare’s] language presented difficulties in its apprehension—by a public that was not interested, apparently, in having these difficulties removed or explicated out of existence.”

For example, one clip shown to the audience was about the singing scene with Ophelia in Hamlet. The performer was struggling with understanding what Shakespeare meant by her madness, and only by having the main character explain it to her did she understand.

“In the classrooms that once used feature length films to make Shakespeare understandable, like Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, now use film clips from a sampling of different films and videos,” Herold said “Popular culture now adapts or spins Shakespeare’s works into films and performance pieces that clip, slice, or quote from what once was a performance-text realized upon the stage, and a stage that didn’t look anything like our theaters today.”

“The series is about putting on a play. A Shakespeare play,” Harold said.

Anthony Guest, director of “As You Like It”, was in attendance at the performance.

“For actors, this was candy, to see how storyline moves with Shakespeare pieces,” Guest said.

For Herold, however, the lecture was “only the tip of the iceberg” when it came to talking about the ways in which Shakespeare should be taught.

Herold offered some advice for students studying Shakespeare as well.

“Accept the challenge, intellectual and emotional, of not being able to understand everything that’s going on in Shakespeare, especially on first reading, beholding or viewing,” Herold said.