Hamlet and The Steep and Thorny Way:
Exploring Girlhood with Ariane M. Balizet
I often ask my students to practice metacognition and intentional reflection through writing, and to them, it can seem abstract, tedious, meticulous, or simply repetitive. This is all before they go through the process. I find that challenges with reflection may stem from a simple lack of inspiration. Maybe it’s a lack of practice. Maybe it’s self-censoring as they are in the process of said reflection. This considered, and with me being very much a student in this institution, I am going to try to limit my own self-censorship and allow the ideas to appear on this page as they come – as true of a reflection as I might be able to convey.
The session with Ariane Balizet from AddRan College of Liberal Arts left me with no lack of inspiration or things to say. I felt Ariane’s lessons left our group with plenty to take into our own classroom, and her visit certainly helped my small teaching group to have success teaching our own demonstration covering The Steep and Thorny Way. So, in that way, Ariane helped provide me with new thinking, real strategies, and real immediate teaching success in the week that followed!
During our time with Ariane, I was impressed with many declarative statements that I have felt for the last few years in my own pedagogical practice but had not been able to coin, per se. Of all of what we learned from Ariane, the following two declarations stuck with me the most so I’d like to explore them a bit here:
● Declaration #1: Shakespeare belongs to young people
● Declaration #2: Adaptation allows for different kinds of student engagement and promotes the ability to measure student learning and skill development in more genuine and effective ways.
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
Shakespeare belongs to YOUNG people.
Ah! Finally. What a relief. Someone who has deeply studied pedagogical practices for teaching Shakespeare defines this truth and does so within a scholarly framework. To many in my local teaching community, Shakespeare is seen as a sort of unattainable, highbrow drama meant to be absorbed by white, retired fuddy-duddies who seek entertainment and false sophistication on a Saturday night. Or, people in my local community see it as an unattainable text because students “just don’t need it anymore.” More sadly, they say we can’t “do Shakespeare” because students just can’t handle – or won’t TRY to handle – the challenge anymore. Just this year, a colleague abandoned Othello because he feared our students “don’t recognize Shakespeare’s relevance anymore and won’t like it.”
I vehemently disagree with the above interpretations and about the study of Shakespeare. Shakespeare belongs to PEOPLE would have been a relief to hear Ariane say during this lesson. I would have left the class with a kind of permission to continue exploring adapted and creative renditions of his story. But what she said is more nuanced. More pointed. According to Ariane, Shakespeare belongs to the people, sure, but it might be more valuable to consider “ownership” in a different way. The following phrase left me with a lot of promise for my teaching future.
Shakespeare belongs to YOUNG people.
I think the error of those hesitant to teach Shakespeare falls within the idea that I, the instructor, must be an expert in His works, must have authority over My reading, line-by-line, and I must have such Robin-Williams-Dead-Poet-Prowess as to deliver each lesson with such perfection as to leave students wanting to create their own Shakespeare club. I don’t believe this, and I have never believed this. I also don’t think Ariane believes this. Instead, Ariane premised that WE (educators, adults, or even Shakespeare himself) should not be burdened with the idea that we must own the story. If we attack the challenge and beauty of Shakespeare with the idea that it belongs to young people, we can be relieved of these false pressures and let the story bloom in its own time in its own way in our students’ minds. Each generation seeks their own path of exploration and understanding of the world around them, and so by giving THEM the ownership of Shakespeare’s story, we can all seek a higher, more genuine, more critical understanding of what his storytelling can do. This is step one to an important and essential shift in teaching Shakespeare to high school sophomores and seniors.
Adaptation allows for different kinds of student engagement and promotes the ability to measure student learning and skill development in more genuine and effective ways.
Again, hearing Ariane say these words left me with a feeling of levity. I have been trying – and often failing – to explain how adapted works can be MORE beneficial than simply teaching the source material. If declaration #1 was permission to unpack Shakespeare in a different way, declaration #2 was permission to see this as a true, meaningful practice for modern classroom teaching practices.
As said before, Shakespeare seems to be taught by fewer and fewer teachers across my district every year. I don’t want to be another the question the merits of teaching his stories, so hearing this in the classroom meant a lot to me.
Ariane practices what she preaches, as well. I left this session with a myriad of tools and techniques I can use in my classroom on day one this coming school year, and for that I’m grateful. Her premise for adapting Shakespeare was backing by scholarly articles and real practices, and to have this nailed down will allow me to deliver my lessons more effectively and continue my own sort of scholarly meanderings within the world of this pedagogical model.
Lastly, I myself feel that too often I approach Shakespeare while leaving students disenchanted or distanced from his works. Ariane’s lesson gave me methods for how I can use Shakespeare to genuinely build inclusive lessons and address some of the gaps in his own approaches to characters, especially girlhood. I often touch upon race, class, and gender when studying literature in my class, but Ariane has given me a fishbowl in which I can approach a more intersectional approach to 400+ year or Eurocentric storytelling.
This year I will ask students to study and perform Shakespeare’s words, yes, but I will also feel more comfortable asking them to then reanimate his story in their own unique adapted project.