Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Teaching Dilemma: What to Assign?

So I'm tentatively gearing up to teach a course this fall at the University of Mississippi (fingers-crossed the class makes enrollment). And I've come upon a tricky problem.

It's an undergraduate survey of British literature from its Anglo-Saxon beginnings until the eighteenth century. I'm hitting the highlights--Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, etc.--while throwing some more unusual works in there. For instance, a play by Thomas Middleton.

That guy.

So here's my dilemma. I want to give the students a sense of the difference between Shakespeare and Middleton. Am I better off assigning two plays in the same genre--for instance, pairing a Shakespeare comedy with a Middleton comedy, or a Shakespeare tragedy with a Middleton tragedy? Or would it be better to assign different genres, to give the students an idea of the scope of dramatic literature in the period?

I'm using the NAEL, which includes King Lear and Twelfth Night. I've taught Twelfth Night before, but not Lear. I always try to teach at least one new work each time I do a class, so that I'm expanding my repertoire.

The pairings I've thought of are: King Lear and The Revenger's Tragedy, or Twelfth Night and The Roaring Girl. RT doesn't really have a ton in common with Lear. I guess they're both about families, royal dynasties, and (in different ways) about female virtue. But I like RT because it's so straightforward; there aren't a lot of confusing subplots or motivations--no inexplicable Lent enforcers, bawdy Puritan women, or madhouse-next-door situations. Vindice wants revenge; okay, done. I also think it might work because the students will probably have some level of familiarity with Hamlet, which it riffs on. If I teach TW and RG instead, I can get into cross-dressing, gender on stage, and early modern ideas and expectations about romantic love and marriage. Also, everyone loves a comedy.

And then if I mix and match, I'm sure other connections will arise, like senexes trying to control the lives of their children in Lear and RG, or  . . . you know, I honestly can't think of a good one for TW and RT. Brooding hero-types?

Or perhaps I'll let the students vote . . .

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