Monday, January 28, 2008

Is that like Karl Marx?

I decided to use an old Groucho Marx bit to demonstrate subtext to my sophomores doing Julius Caesar. I don't remember where I got the idea, but I used a bit from Animal Crackers where Groucho has two women fighting over him. From the scene, you can't tell whether or not he likes either of the women; until, he says to the women, "Pardon me while I have a strange interlude." He steps forward and rants about how he can't stand either woman.
After I showed the bit, the kids and I discussed the "strange interlude" and what it meant. We discussed other times where if we took a "strange interlude," we'd reveal something that isn't obvious from what we're saying. I then divided them up into groups and gave them scenarios--a first date that isn't going very well, bringing someone home to meet the parents, parent/teacher conferences--and asked them to act them out, including their own strange interlude. I gave them five minutes or so to get a general idea of what they were doing, and I gave help to those groups who were struggling. Then they performed their small skit for the class.
Let me tell you, they were hysterical!! I had a group of all boys on the "first date." They were my best boy (the boy on the date) pretended to check out the waitress. The "girl" made a comment about her being cute, then had a strange interlude where she called him a pig. We couldn't stop laughing.
I then tied the strange interlude idea into "subtext." I told the kids that they're essentially the same thing in the context of Shakespeare. We discussed some places in the play where subtext played a huge role. Then I had them find five places in Act III, Scene 1 where understanding subtext is essential to understanding the scene. They then had to write the "strange interlude" each character would have.

My second class I did the lesson with was still a bit fuzzy on what subtext was. We had to go through and discuss several examples of it. They couldn't quite wrap their brain around the idea of getting inside a character's head, so we had to do a mini-lesson on characterization and motivation. I'm still not sure if they understood it, but I suppose I'll see when I collect their assignments this morning.

Overall, I really liked doing this lesson, and I think the kids did too. It was something different, which was nice for both of us. I'm tired of doing line-by-line explanations of Shakey.

Now, does anyone have any suggestions on how to wean them off of the "American" Shakespeare? They still try to sneak it out during class and quizzes. It's irritating as all get out.


Tamara said...

This sounds like a such a great lesson. Good for you! All of us teachers get in a rut doing the same thing, day in day out, feeling bored and our students can tell. This sounds like it was a nice break from monotony. Heck, I might even steal the idea someday.

How did you show the Groucho Marx piece? Did you find it online and were able to project it? I ask because I don't have a digital projector which means burning DVDs and such.

Oh, and another easy film to get a TON of subtext scenes is Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye is CONSTANTLY talking to God and fussing with him. A more modern thing you could use are episodes from SCRUBS. It's a good TV show and the main character constantly has hilarious conversations with himself in his own head.

Thanks for sharing

the anonymous teacher said...

Tamara, I don't even know how I didn't think to use Scrubs. I love that show!!

I found the video on Youtube. My computer is hooked up to my TV, so I showed it that way. (I wish I had a digital projector.)

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

That was just great! I would have loved to see it!

hick town teacher said...

This was a great lesson. Thanks for the inspiration. I can't wait to read more.

Lauren said...

Wow- that's freakin' brilliant. I'm still doing my ed classes and I have the hardest time trying to figure out how to tie most lit to "real life" mainly b/c I'm such a nerd that I enjoy the lit w/o having to tie it or relate to anything modern. So it's hard for me to put the concepts of themes and tone etc. in a student's frame of reference. This is going to be so helpful, thank you!

Red Penn said...

I knowit's been a long time since your post on teaching 'subtext', but I found you rblog and love reaading it. But I gotta ask - what do you mean by getting the kids off "American Shakespeare"? What is that?

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