5/11/2007

Once again, if there are any parents out there, I am so, so sorry for the almost-pointless stupidity of my class today.

My intentions were good–they really were. I thought, Hey, we’ll take a little scene from Shakespeare and let the kids interpret it however they want, and, since this is Shakespeare, it can’t help but somehow be meaningful, no matter what the kids do to it. Well, I don’t know. I’ll summarize a few of the adaptations, and you can judge for yourself.

Monkeyin’ ‘Round

Desdemona, Emilia, and Cassio are three monkeys sitting in the jungle canopy discussing their problems–at least, Cassio and Desdemona are discussing, while Emilia harasses them and bothers them, generally preventing them from uttering a single intelligible line. (Emilia’s 2 lines were also written, I might add, on the back of a prop banana. Nice touch.) When I asked the class what they thought this interpretation might have added to the meaning of the play as it was originally written, one student came up with the following nugget of wisdom:

“Monkeys are smart.”

I think they were really on to something there, but, as a teacher, I thought I might push that thought just a little further down the road of sophistication. I “adapted” that idea into the following, which I believe perfectly encapsulates the play and this particular performance:

“People are dumb.”

The lady doeth pro-TEXT too much…

Okay, we’re still talking about Othello here, despite my clever pun in the section title. In this version of the “missing handkerchief confrontation” scene, the dramatic conversation takes place via text messages, with all of the creative spelling and pre-language-like acronymic squeaks and grunts that go along with it (LOL, bai!). This version also featured a student in the pointless (or was it?) role of the imaginary “text message” itself, complete with sound effects and a jaunty chapeau. The class agreed that this interpretation clearly signaled the distance imposed between individuals by modern life, and technology in particular. And the anthropomorphized text message showed how we moderns are beginning to confide in unconscious bits as we used to our extended clans and family units. This, of course, is a double irony, considering the ethereal nature of those bits, which are little more than imperceptible and temporary electromagnetic disturbances flying through the air on invisible microwaves. It was really sad.

“I did cook for you once”

Thus spoke Hamlet, only to retract the statement, bitterly, 5 lines later: “I cooked for you not!” This, of course, from the “get thee to a nunnery” encounter between Ophelia and Hamlet in act 3. In this case, the adaptation considered the scene as played by two great lovers of breakfast and all breakfast foods, in a kingdom obsessed with this delightful and many-meated morning meal. The famous line itself was morphed into the memorable: “Get thee to an IHOP!” It was really…something. The class and I agreed that the symbolism of the glorious breakfasts of the past, alluded too by both Hamlet and Ophelia, when considered against the meager breakfasts of their present imbued the whole scene with an almost overwhelming melancholy. It was a good thing I had my security bagel at my desk to make me feel better. Lighten up, people!

Flour and oregano

It was all about edge, this last one. Ophelia, daddy’s little girl no longer, comes skipping onto the scene to the melodious strums of a live calypso-playing singer/songwriter, only to take a desk and bust out some highly stylized drug paraphernalia. The “get thee to a nunnery” argument with Hamlet is thus recast as an intervention between the addict and the loon, climaxing with the single spoken line of the whole adaptation, from the crazed Hamlet: “Go to rehab!” Ophelia refuses, choosing instead to vegetate for several minutes (I’m not exaggerating) under some palm trees, listening to calypso, while in a drug induced stupor. None of us, including the cast, were quite sure how, or WHEN, this was going to end, and it did drag on several minutes longer than any of us would have guessed, but those minutes gave us time to reflect, and I, for one, really learned something. About myself.

Ah, adaptation. So many things to learn, so many ways to learn them. Perhaps the Shakespeare did peek through these teen-addled interpretations, if just a little.

Note to self: Next year, bring a video camera, post it to YouTube, make a million bucks.

MT

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