- “Come, and learn of us”: Shakespeare in an Age of Global Communication
On a warm Indian December day in 2014, while listening to presentations on Shakespeare, I was overcome by mosquitos in an auditorium at Nistarini Women’s College in Purulia, West Bengal. With legs burning, I fled the room in a failed attempt to elude more bites. Although I was embarrassed to leave while speakers were presenting, I was unable to sit quietly or listen politely. When I ran from the building, one of the undergraduates hosting me recognized my problem and brought me to the on-campus accommodation of someone who works for the College. This woman spoke no English, but she readily brought me tea, insect repellent, and salve to calm the inflammation. I was pleased to be rescued from the swarm and smiled and nodded appreciatively.
The woman’s 13-year-old daughter was in the room, but she vanished a few minutes after I arrived. Soon, a group of her friends crowded into the space, all eager to meet the American visitor, to practice their English, and to enjoy the unusual opportunity to interact with someone from the world beyond Purulia. This mixed-gender group was skilled in English, articulate, and eager to talk. They announced their future career goals: neurosurgeon, intellectual property lawyer, pilot. They all held lofty ambitions and were excited to discuss their hopes and dreams with someone from America. The conversation was a complete delight. My only regret was that the woman hosting me and soothing my mosquito-ridden limbs could not participate in the discussion. The generational differences between the educational opportunities available to parent and child were glaringly obvious. These children have options available to them that differ dramatically from those offered to their forebears. Purulia, a tribal region 316 km by train from Kolkata, is remote by many standards and holds a lengthy history as a site with many sufferers of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy), but these young students have a growing sense of the world outside and great aspirations for success in their futures.
I begin with this tale in order to encourage Shakespearean faculty at all levels to take advantage of modern technology in order to expand classroom dialogues beyond traditional boundaries. Students of all kinds stand to benefit by creating educational collaborations between far-flung places. As educators James A. Bellanca and Terry Stirling comment astutely, [End Page 242]
In a classroom without borders, a classroom without walls that limit what and how students can learn, students and teachers gather in a classroom to learn, not only with one another, but also with those outside their classroom walls in other classrooms, schools, and communities around the world. The liberating tool is the Internet.(310–12)
The gathering from Purulia took place because of a long-term partnership between the Shakespeare Society of Eastern India and the World Shakespeare Project (WSP), which enables communication between Principal Indrani Deb’s students at Nistarini Women’s College and America.1 The WSP uses regular videoconferencing and occasional site visits to link faculty, students, and arts-practitioners from around the world in Shakespearean conversations and performance exercises. Presently, we have partners on all continents and enjoy vibrant discussions with students of many different backgrounds.2
The results can be remarkable for everyone involved. They include more engagement with Shakespeare’s text and a greater appreciation for locations in the world previously unknown to typical American students. Although the population at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where the WSP is based, includes many students with broad experience of international travel, these students generally are most familiar with places like London or Paris, not Lagos or Kuala Lumpur. Some have not traveled at all; others have family or friends living overseas, but few have had significant interaction with peers in WSP partnership locations, such as Casablanca, Kampala, Tokyo, or North American Tribal Colleges. We also work with incarcerated students who are studying Shakespeare, so the breadth of cultural backgrounds included in our collaborations is significant. Whether performing the awakening of Hermione’s statue from The Winter’s Tale simultaneously with students in Buenos Aires and Atlanta, or...