Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow -- term moves along

(Image of Lady Macbeth borrowed from West Bay Opera site)
Week 10 of a 13-week term, and I feel as if I've turned the corner, as I always feel at this point. While I still have one last set of short essays to mark for two sections, and then the long research papers for all 4 (about 110 students), not to mention the final exams, the heavy lifting has passed from me to the students. Yes, it's harder and harder to get them engaged, poor tired, panicky creatures that they are now (the good news is that there are only four weeks left, they think, and then realize that that's the bad news as well!). But I've done my prep work, all my primary and secondary source reading, and even have a surprise or two up my sleeve to bring some energy back to the classroom.

I'm also really pleased with my two sections of English 115, which is our Writing for University or Composition and Rhetoric course. I've tried a few different tactics this term and the new approach has paid off -- I just handed back research paper proposals that were probably the best, collectively, that I've had any term yet, and that promise a very decent batch of final papers. So yesterday I brought in boxes of Timbits and we relaxed a bit and chatted about what was working for them and what wasn't and strategized a bit about how we'd all get through these next four weeks.

My two sections of Writing about Literature: Poetry/Drama went to see Macbeth yesterday afternoon. We don't study it very comprehensively, but they've had to read it, summarize the action, and choose sections to dramatize. I wouldn't have put it on the course list, as so many of them have studied it in high school, but since our Theatre Department was putting it on, and it's so important to see a play move from page to stage, I assigned it. Sitting with them yesterday to watch the production was great. Two of my students had key roles, and a favourite student from several years ago played a very convincing Macbeth. The performance was a bit too fast-paced for the words to be well-articulated (altho' some actors managed better than others), but the acting overall was effective. A great castle set, some fabulous costumes, a satisfactorily-ribald Porter (who, indeed, grabbing apparently random audience members to address and fondle managed to hit upon one of my colleagues, a Shakespearean, to call an equivocator). The witches were sexy and licentious with a comic edge, Banquo's ghost dripped a gory eyeball from his bloody face, and Macbeth's head had an uncanny resemblance to the actor who played that wickedly ambitious Scot. All in all, a worthwhile extension of my already-long day (although my poor dog didn't think so, having to wait an extra hour for company and dinner!)

And today, since I released this morning's class to allow for Macbeth-viewing, I have time to work quietly in my office with the door shut, perhaps even catching up on next term's courseware.

Just curious, when's the last time any of you read Macbeth? Any lines stick with you? I was delighted to find how much I enjoyed the play this time 'round and would recommend it as well worth the two or three hours it takes to read.

Oh, and if you're curious about what one wears to view Macbeth with one's students, I wore a mid-calf, box-pleated tweedy-grey wool skirt that I bought a few weeks ago from Gap, and that I love! With my black cavalry-style (knee-high) boots and a long drapey grey cardigan, and a funky large metallic artisan-made pendant, I felt just a bit Virginia Woolf-ish somehow.


  1. Gosh, last time I read Macbeth, I can't remember - MANY moons ago! However, exciting news - we are taking an unexpected trip to Paris! The boys are going on an adventure weekend and can't travel alone, so we are going with. I have emailed Jennifer at your favourite hotel and am checking out your old posts. We'll have Friday evening, all Saturday and Sunday morning, the weekend after this one. I foresee lots of walking! Patricia

  2. OK I confess. I have never read any Shakespeare, but I have seen quite a few productions. Oh and I did visit his home in Stratford upon Avon. My favourite play is the Tempest, why? I can't really say but I was riveted.
    The outfit sounds perfect. Although what would Jean Brodie have made of the boots!

  3. Oh Macbeth: it must be at least 30 years. It was never one of my favorite plays. I was so fascinated by Shakespeare in my teens and twenties; I wonder why I haven't read him in so long. Perhaps it is time see what perspective a little age might bring.

  4. I love Macbeth , but then I would, wouldn't I? Random snippets dredged up, no doubt inaccurately from my memory:
    Out out damn spot.....
    I am in blood stepped in so far that returning....
    Lay on McDuff and damned be him who first cries "hold enough!"
    Man of no woman born...

  5. Oh, this is easy. "Macbeth shall sleep no more". I often say this to He-weasel when he asks for five more minutes of sleep. But, I do know the whole line: Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more!"
    Macbeth does murder sleep,innocent sleep.
    Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care.
    The death of each day's life, sore labours bath.
    Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course.
    Chief nourisher in life's feast.

    Mr. Slater would be so proud of me. ;-)

  6. "Oh what a wicked web we weave...?" Is that MacBeth?

    I wish you could have seen our local "Othello" this summer in the botanical garden, Mater! It was modern day, hilarious. Bikes, golf carts and scooters added to the L.A. backdrop for this production!

  7. OH! And "Double Double, toil and trouble?" Wasn't there a lot of OCD handwashing in Macbeth?

  8. Patricia, what great news! Forget Macbeth when you've got Paris on the horizon! Give Jennifer a hug for me and you'll have to stop by and check out Aimée's tea shop and have some macarons on my behalf at Ladurée and . . . And Jennifer will have a few must-see recommendations as well, I'm sure.
    Alison: Well, seeing a performance is much better than reading a play, any day! I love The Tempest as well. And you're making me want to watch JB again -- you don't think she'd do the cavalry boots? ;-)
    Mardel: If you do have a new look, after all these years, I'd love to know what you think. I doubt I'd have hauled my text out were it not for teaching, but I really enjoyed it, found myself reading out loud, caught up in the rhythm and images.
    Lesley: Well, you are a Scot! And one with an impressive memory too -- those lines do stick, don't they?!
    LBR: I love this example, 'cause I'm always telling my students what fun they could have if they worked some of these lines into everyday conversation, and they chuckle a bit, rolling their eyes at my geekiness, I'm sure!
    Impressive memory you have -- I love these lines, being a big believer in sleep's ability to knit up those ravelled sleeves!
    If Mr. Slater could see you now . . .
    Karen: The "tangled web . . . deceive" lines were trotted out regularly during my childhood by my mother, so I know they are Sir Walter Scott. But he's a Scot and so's Macbeth, so close enough! The OCD hand-washing, yes, you're spot-on with that AND the "Out, out, damned spot."
    That Othello sounds really lively for such a dark play -- We have a Bard on the Beach theatre program through the summer in Vancouver, and there's something special about the combination of Shakespeare and the outdoors.

  9. It is absolutlely this line..."The instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence". I love that line!Love your blog...

  10. Thanks for commenting, Beth, and thanks for the blog love! That's a great quotation. I love knowing that there are lines that continue to enrich and inspire -- it's what I try to convince my students of, 'tho not often successfully.

  11. Oh Beth, I didn't know that line was from Macbeth! It is one of my favorite quotes, but I guess I am a little sloppy at remembering the provenance of things.....
    Now it is certain, must re-read.

  12. The last time I read Macbeth was in my Honour's Shakespeare class...12 years ago.

    But the line that sticks out most to me is from television show (title escapes me) where Jane Curtin is teaching a class. One of her students gives a less than passionate reading and Curtin moves her aside, saying, "She's not talking to a dog. It's blood. Out, out, damn spot!"

  13. Mardel: let me know if you do.
    Thomas: That's a great line -- no wonder it sticks with you! Wouldn't it be fun to collect all the pop-culture (tv primarily, I guess) references to Shakespeare? I know of at least one in Buffy (Spike refers to the Henry V "St Crispin's day speech"). Anyone else?

  14. Favourite part? Macduff's response to news of family slaughter where his mind, unwilling to accept the news, keeps building questions around what the ears have heard.
    "My children too?" " My wife kill'd too?" All my pretty ones?" "What! all my pretty ones and their dam at one fell swoop?" The questions are interspersed with the rage and anguish they are trying to abort. I've seen and read the play countless times, and those lines choke me every time.

    And remind me of Raymond Carver's poem "What the Doctor Said" in which the speaker responds to the death sentence the doctor has just delivered with the comment: "I may even have thanked him, habit being so strong".

    When the centre cannot hold, the mind does what it must to preserve sanity. One of the most powerful of Shakespeare's tragedies, for me, to see Macbeth's mind struggling to accomodate what he knows is evil, a mental battle his wife loses. She is driven to madness and eventually to suicide, incapable any longer of equivocating to fool herself.

  15. Forgot to add that the above lines choke me up, but the tears start to flow at macduff's cry of rage and anguish: " He has no children."

  16. Anon: That's my favourite part as well, "all my pretty ones and their dam" -- and "but first I must feel it as a man" -- might be favourite in all of Shakespeare. My students were a bit bemused, I think, to hear that I might cry at those lines.

  17. Had not read Macbeth for decades till my sons read it 2 years ago in high school. I spent two years of summer school (17 and 18) studying only Shakespeare. We live a short distance from the Shakespeare Festival (Stratford, Ontario) so are lucky to see some great performances.

  18. Duchesse: You've been missed, and I'm glad to have you back here (only sorry you had to leave Paris where I'm sure you had a wonderful time). That summer school must have provided a marvelous foundation -- so many daily references to Shakespeare you'd have been alert to, from a relatively young age. And now having such easy access to Stratford (and I know you take regular advantage of that proximity) -- lucky!


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