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Seven Years

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Today, this blog is celebrating its seventh birthday. Right now, it has a Technorati authority of 99, which ranks me 24,523 out of 1,343,382 ranked blogs. There are currently 1,018 posts in 95 categories and 2,875 approved comments. There have been 130,657 unique hits to the blog.

This was the year I wrote my thousandth post. We said goodbye to the Shakespeare Song Parody, and said hello to the Shakespeare Follow-Up. I posted 10 reviews, 22 anagrams, and 43 riddles.

I’m looking forward to the exciting possibilities the new year brings. I hope you will join me on this journey.

Top Ten Posts of 2013

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Once again, I present my top ten favorite posts of the year as a countdown. Only three of this year’s entries deal directly with the Common Core.

10. The Wager (April 28)

My friend Brian bet me he could pass my Shakespeare final without taking the course, and I accepted his wager. We both ended up learning more than we had expected.

9. Shakespeare and the Common Core (January 6)

Does the Common Core really eliminate all literature in favor of dry government manuals? Not even close. In fact, Shakespeare is actually mandated by the Common Core.

8. Shakespeare Follow-Up: Circumnavigation (November 29)

This year saw a new feature added to the blog: The Shakespeare Follow-Up. I chose this one, following up from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as a representative sample.

7. Cleopatra’s Facebook (April 17)

This project actually happened two years ago, but I worked with a class of 6th grade students who created a Facebook page for the Egyptian queen, reflecting the events of Antony and Cleopatra.

6. Don’t Be Rotten to the Core (October 2)

While I do have some specific concerns about the Common Core, fixating on distortions and distractions prevents us from having the real conversations we need to have about education.

5. Shakespeare Clickbait (December 25)

What if we used the same tactics to get people to read Shakespeare that websites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy use to get readers to click on their stories? I present: Shakespeare Clickbait.

4. Danny and the Death Ray (January 9)

This is a nice little story about a small town, and one boy who dared to speak out in order to save it. Some people read into it as an allegory for something else, but I just don’t see it.

3. In the Zone (March 6)

Wouldn’t it be a shame if the Common Core really were a better way to structure education, but nobody ever knew it because the implementation had been botched so badly?

2. Shakespeare Song Parody: We Love the Plays of Shakespeare (June 28)

The ongoing Shakespeare Song Parody feature came to an end this year, but not before the appearance of this swan song, paying tribute to all of the plays one last time.

1. How Real is Richard? (February 13)

When the bones of King Richard III were unearthed earlier this year, I was inspired to create a seven-point scale to rate how “real” each of Shakespeare’s characters actually are.

Have a Happy New Year, and I hope to see you in 2014!

Shakespeare Clickbait

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

How far should we go to get people to read Shakespeare? I say we do whatever it takes.

You may also enjoy these stories:

The secret herb that will make women fall for you… INSTANTLY!
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The one shocking diet trick that is GUARANTEED to help you lose weight!
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Do these three women really have the secret for seeing into the FUTURE?

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Some senators challenged this interracial couple’s marriage, and THIS is what they said…
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A dying father called for his son, and what he said will blow you AWAY!
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Most people don’t know the one food you should NEVER eat…

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The 7 tell-tale signs of AGING that men can’t afford to ignore!
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Learn one weird trick for erasing ALL of your debt (without paying a penny)!
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This single act of forgiveness will restore your faith in HUMANITY!

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Click the images above to read more!

My teenage daughter and her friends think that posts like this can’t go viral. Please help me teach them an important lesson by sharing this on Facebook and Twitter.

One Thousand

Monday, November 18th, 2013

This is Post #1000 on Shakespeare Teacher.

And there was much rejoicing throughout the land!

I shudder to think of myself doing anything one thousand times, but the evidence is right before us. Looking at my category links, about one third of the thousand posts are Thursday Morning Riddles. Roughly another third are about Shakespeare, and about a third of those are Shakespeare Anagrams. I have over 100 posts about education, and 48 of them are explicitly about Teaching Shakespeare. So if you were wondering how much of Shakespeare Teacher is actually about teaching Shakespeare, the answer is almost five percent of it.

The milestone comes at a good time because I had an unusually high amount of traffic over the past few days. It seems as though the Shakespeare Autocorrect post went viral on Facebook again. I couldn’t really track the progress, because I was at Macbeth, but the site got 320 hits on Friday, and that’s a new one-day record. Also, someone on a Reddit message board put up a link to this old post, and that brought in a lot of new visitors over the weekend.

Interestingly enough, a Hebrew-language site linked to my univocalic Hamlet lipogram. I don’t read Hebrew, but I know enough to recognize the linked text says “Hamlet” and that the article seems to be about constrained writing pieces. And impressively, most of the article itself seems to have been written without any vowels at all!

That’s a Hebrew joke, thrown in for free in honor of the thousandth post. Are we still having fun? Put me down for another thousand.

Shakespeare Follow-Up

Friday, September 27th, 2013

I am pleased to announce a new regular feature to the blog: the Shakespeare Follow-Up!

Shakespeare lived and wrote during a time we call the Early Modern Period. And yet, there is much about his time that doesn’t seem very modern at all. It’s common for students to mistakenly refer to Shakespeare’s language as “Old English” because it seems so far removed from the way we speak today. But once you get past the vocabulary and sentence structure, you realize that the language is just the tip of an iceberg representing a 400-year-old gap of knowledge, culture, and worldview.

Shakespeare was born in the same year as Galileo, but pre-deceased him by over 25 years, well before the Italian’s famous grapple with Pope Urban over the question of heliocentrism. Dying as he did in 1616, Shakespeare just barely missed the beginnings of what we consider to be modern science. Bacon’s Novum Organum, published in 1620, contained the early stirrings of the scientific method. And as the Scientific Revolution started picking up some serious steam later in the 17th century, the ideas of the world Shakespeare inhabited were already starting to seem antiquated.

A lot can happen in 400 years. Empires rise and fall, as historians rethink their judgements. Breakthroughs are made. Values shift. We still love Shakespeare because he tapped into the universal truth of human existence, sure, but that doesn’t mean we understand him fully, nor he us. Shylock’s conversion, Dromio’s beating, Katherine’s taming… they can seem harsh to us, living in a different culture and a different time. New discoveries, like the recent unearthing of the remains of Richard III, give us insight on historic people and events that Shakespeare never would have had. Just because Shakespeare’s always on our main stage, doesn’t mean we’re always on the same page.

And thus is born the Shakespeare Follow-Up. Each week (or whenever the mood strikes me), I’ll identify a passage from Shakespeare that highlights a particular gap between Shakespeare’s time and our own. Perhaps it’s a scientific statement of fact, believed to be true in Shakespeare’s time, but ridiculously outdated in ours. Maybe it’s an idea that wasn’t accepted in Shakespeare’s time, but it turned out to be remarkably prophetic. Or maybe it’s an instance where Shakespeare shows us that something we think of as wholly modern has been around longer than we think. I’ll quote the passage, and then provide a “Follow-Up” of where we are today.

This feature will probably end up to be more about cultural, historical, and scientific shifts than it is about Shakespeare. But this blog has always been approached with the philosophy that a love of Shakespeare is only the beginning of a life of examination and discovery. This feature will be another step in that journey. And I think understanding the gaps between us and Shakespeare helps us understand his works better as well. Hamlet tells Horatio that there “are more things in heaven and earth” than are dreamt of in his philosophy. And so, let it be with Shakespeare.

Sound like fun? The Shakespeare Follow-Up will appear on Fridays.

Break’s Over

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Thank you all for your patience as I took an unplanned hiatus from the blog. The summer’s over now, and it’s time to return to a regular schedule of writing.

I just added 22 new categories and went back through the archives to update them. So now, if you want to browse through posts that contain Classroom Ideas or my thoughts on Education Policy, those are now options available to you. You can see the Popular posts that, for whatever reason, generate the most traffic, or sift through the Snark. I even added a new category on Teaching Shakespeare, because that’s how I roll.

So what can you expect from the next few months of Shakespeare Teacher? Well, I’m kind of curious about that myself. I expect I’ll continue to do the riddle, and have no plans to abandon the anagram. I even have a new feature planned, still in search of a title. The rest is a mystery waiting to be unravelled. I’m looking forward to our making that journey together.

I Talk About Politics

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

I wanted to address a question that isn’t Frequently Asked, but one that is often raised in more subtle ways: Why would a blog dedicated to the teaching of Shakespeare talk so much about politics? Why risk alienating Shakespeare fans that may not agree with my viewpoints? Wouldn’t it be better to build a community of Shakespeare teachers without venturing into the socially impolite topic of partisan politics?

First of all, allow me to clarify that this blog isn’t entirely dedicated to teaching Shakespeare, as you may have noticed. “Shakespeare Teacher” is simply meant to be my blogger handle. The blog has always been about whatever I happen to find interesting at the moment, which often includes education and Shakespeare, but it also will include politics from time to time. But the question does lead to a more interesting question about how contemporary politics and Shakespeare are related in the roles they play in our lives.

In The Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal tells us that “all theater is necessarily political, because all the activities of man are political and theater is one of them.” What’s the point of studying Shakespeare if we’re not going to learn from him? And what’s the point of learning from him if we’re not going to apply what we’ve learned to build a better world? People who study that other great work of literature never hesitate to cite passages from it to imply an endorsement of their political views. We should not be timid to bring Shakespeare into the discussion when his insights would add a vital perspective.

I sometimes try to do this with the anagram, and this example from King Lear is perhaps illustrative. Lear is looking at the helpless victims of a storm and recognizing that he is partly responsible for their plight. “O! I have ta’en/ Too little care of this.” And if we can be moved by his words, it’s only fair to ask: moved to what? If we can be moved to tears, we can be moved to action. Because what moves us in that line is our recognition of the things in the world that we ourselves have ta’en too little care of. Like, for example, the helpless victims of a storm, and our responsibility to them.

We venerate Shakespeare for his wisdom about the human condition. Some go so far as to say that he teaches us what it means to be human. But how does this understanding manifest itself in our society if not in the decisions we make as public policy? How do we define ourselves? How do we treat each other? How can we meet our most fundamental human needs? How do we deal with the unexpected? What are our priorities? What is our responsibility to one another? How we answer these questions for ourselves determines how we make the big decisions about the kind of society we want to be and the kind of world we want to live in. These decisions are swayed by policy, policy is swayed by elections, and elections are swayed by public opinion. Can Shakespeare be a voice in that discussion?

I talk about Shakespeare. I talk about politics. I welcome you to the conversation.

Six Years

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Today, this blog is celebrating its sixth birthday. Right now, it has a Technorati authority of 103, which ranks me 28,620 out of 1,318,014 ranked blogs. There are currently 892 posts in 71 categories and 2,637 approved comments. As of right now, there have been 107,257 hits to the blog, though over 100 of them have come in today. (I don’t know why.)

Happy New Year to all of the new visitors and to all of the regulars. I’m planning to come back now, and I hope you’ll join me.

Bill

Top Ten Posts of 2012

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Once again, I present my top ten favorite posts of the year as a countdown. This year, nine of the ten deal directly with Shakespeare.

10. Film: The Tempest (July 29)

This is a review of the filmed version of a stage production of The Tempest from the Stratford Festival in Canada, with Des McAnuff directing Christopher Plummer as Prospero. The review talks about the film, the play, and the conventions of film vs. theatre.

9. Some Context (September 23)

I examine some of the quotes that were taken out of context during the 2012 presidential race, particularly those that tell a convenient story about the person being misquoted. Sometimes, however, the quote is even worse when viewed in context.

8. Connecting Students with the Language (August 1)

Just as we make Shakespeare more relevant to our students by drawing modern-day connections to his plots and characters, so too can we use the elements of today’s world to help them make connections to iambic pentameter, as well as other poetic devices.

7. Conundrum: Prospero’s Books (August 21)

This is a complex logic puzzle that uses the titles of Shakespeare’s plays as a part of the game. You don’t need to know anything about Shakespeare to solve the puzzle, nor will Shakespeare knowledge actually help you, but manipulating the familiar names may add to the fun.

6. Kevin Spacey as Richard III (January 15)

I was lucky enough to get to see Kevin Spacey play the title role in Richard III, and instead of writing a proper review, I decided to write a sophomoric parody of one of the scenes, replacing most of Richard’s lines with quotes from Kevin Spacey movies. Enjoy!

5. Shakespeare’s Most Underrated Characters (August 5)

Inspired by Cassius from Pursued by a Bear, I explore fifty minor characters from Shakespeare’s canon that I think are defined by more than their line counts. Wife of Simpcox, I’m looking at you.

4. Shakespeare Song Parody: Mourn This Way (September 7)

This year saw the genesis of a brand new regular feature on the blog, the Shakespeare Song Parody. I chose this Hamlet/Lady Gaga mash-up as a representative favorite. Runners-up included Agamemnon Style, The Death of Kings, and Lady, It’s Warm Outside.

3. Shakespeare Autocorrect (December 25)

I was enjoying some year-end lists of best Autocorrects when I had the idea to mock-up some examples of how Autocorrect might cause problems of Shakespearean proportions. The concept was a hit on Twitter, and the post earned a last-minute spot on this Top Ten list. Sorry, Shakespeare Palindrome.

2. Shakespeare Anagram: Sonnet CXVI (July 28)

This is not only my favorite anagram of the year, but is also one of my favorite anagrams from the past six years of the blog. I take a Shakespeare sonnet about marriage and anagram it into an original sonnet about same-sex marriage. Check it out!

1. Top Ten Shakespeare Retrochronisms (October 3)

A retrochronism is a word I coined to describe a term in a literary work that is misinterpreted by future generations. In this post, you will find numerous examples from Shakespeare. I had a lot of fun writing this, and I’m really pleased with the way it came out.

Eating Ambrosia on Mount Olympus

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

As the year is winding down, I’m looking back over the last twelve months of Shakespeare Teacher to prepare for the annual Top Ten Posts list, which will be up tomorrow. I admit that this has not been my most prolific year, but I’ve been extremely busy. Busyness is often cited as a complaint, but I have no complaints. Rather, my busyness has been the result of having too many opportunities that were too good to pass up. Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?

One of the things that has been occupying my time has been a new graduate-level course I’m teaching for NYU on evaluation for school administrators. I didn’t know I’d be teaching it until the course actually started, so I’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to stay prepared each week. The effort has been worthwhile, as the students have been giving glowing feedback to the department, and I’ve been hired to teach it again in the spring. I’ll also be teaching my regular course for English teachers on using drama as a teaching tool, so I should still be pretty busy… the good busy, but busy nevertheless.

Still, I’d like to be using the blog to write about the things that I’m doing and to process what I’m learning while I’m doing them. I haven’t been doing that, and my New Year’s Resolution is to return to doing that. So busyness isn’t an excuse to avoid writing; it should be a call to write. Readers have continued to enjoy the regular features, and I’ve enjoyed writing them, but they were never what this blog was supposed to be about. I recently had one experience in particular that I’ve regretted not taking the time to share with the readers of this website, so I’d like to do so now. Better late than never.

Thirteen (WNET) has produced a series called Shakespeare Uncovered which will premiere on PBS stations on January 25. I had nothing to do with the creation of the series, but Thirteen asked me to sit on an advisory board to consult on the educational outreach component that accompanies their programming. So far, this has consisted of previewing the series and having a day-long meeting with Thirteen educators and other members of the advisory board.

I was excited enough to work with Thirteen and on teaching Shakespeare no less, but when I found out who the other members of the board were going to be, I was floored. These are my teaching Shakespeare heroes, some of whom I’ve met through my dealings with the Folger, others of whom I know by reputation. My claim to fame, on the other hand, is that I snatched a good Internet domain name when the snatching was good. But I think my enthusiasm for the subject matter made up the difference. Having the chance to spend an entire day discussing the teaching of Shakespeare with a team of experts was like being invited to eat ambrosia on the top of Mount Olympus. And I’ve been yearning to tell you about it ever since.

By the way, the Shakespeare Uncovered series is amazing, and you should watch it when it airs. If you’re into Shakespeare, you’ll appreciate all of the different angles the series covers. And if you’re not a Shakespeare fan, you may come to understand why some of us are.

I had hoped that this post wouldn’t come off as too self-critical or apologetic. But now that I read over it, it comes off as one big humblebrag. I can live with that. The Top Ten list will be posted tomorrow.