- CSI 1595: The Case of the Stiletto Kid
At the end of the last millennium, Gary Taylor argued that Shakespeare’s cultural influence was in steep decline. As an example, he noted that Shakespeare Studies was no longer the epicenter within the academy of bibliographical research: “the internecine battles of Shakespeare editing may be as vicious as ever, but their victors do not command as much cultural authority as they once did” (199). Further, Taylor stated that whatever “flood of counter-examples”—Shakespeare on video, CD-ROM, and the internet; a growing interest in hypertext; bestselling books such as Harold Bloom’s The Invention of the Human; or even award-winning popular films—did not amount to much: “different critics might cite counterexamples, but the technique of refutation would remain the same: a statistical claim is countered by citing individual cases that contradict it. Such refutations are illogical, because the statistical claim has already included the evidence of the alleged counter-examples” (198). Yet, if we are going to talk statistics, Taylor need only have looked at the number of “hits” on a website to see that, statistically speaking, what is popular or important outside academia outweighs what goes on within it. Today, that objection is all the more obvious: when one considers, for instance, that the Second City adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, “Sassy Gay Friend,” has been viewed over 7.8 million times, it follows that Shakespeare is alive and well, with the only real points of contention centering on who and what is “Shakespeare” and how the works should be valued and evaluated.
A new generation of academics is fast embracing remediation. Thomas Leitch, for example, argues that course work should be revised to “get beyond passive receptivity to texts toward an active engagement with them” (15). He notes that “this [creative] alternative … does not approach adaptations as either transcriptions of canonical classics or attempts to create new classics but rather [serves] as illustrations of the incessant process of rewriting as critical reading” (16). Christy Desmet, who has tirelessly championed new media forms of Shakespeare, has called on “students as well as Shakespeareans” to embrace the “usefulness of talking back to Shakespeare” (11). Likewise, Stephen O’Neill argues that we should encourage “knowledge constructors,” “do-it-yourself responses to the plays,” “experiential learning” and “learning-by-doing” (218). James R. Andreas contends that our traditional assignments are not only stodgy, they are, moreover, limited to one form of learning assessment, the traditional [End Page 268] essay. He prefers “more lively and entertaining ways to communicate than simply ‘writing down.’” (31). In the same vein, Mary T. Christel and Christine Heckel-Oliver suggest that students might role-play parts of Shakespeare, which can lead “to various kinds of creative drama or improvisation” (21). Even a traditional critic like J. L. Styan has recently argued that assessment exercises on Shakespeare should somehow be an “appropriate extension of the creative act of performance” (4).
Along with critical approval, remediation is in lock-step with aspects of the new common core standards, which seek “to prepare students for life outside the classroom.” The new standards, specifically, “include critical-thinking skills and the ability to closely and attentively read texts in a way that will help them understand and enjoy complex works of literature. . . . The standards also lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person who is prepared for success in the 21st century” (ELA-Literacy). The intuition that 21st-century learners need a different set of skills from those presently offered is also endorsed by a 2012 report by the CFR (Council of Foreign Relations), chaired by Joel L. Klein and Condoleezza Rice, which embraces “creative analysis or imaginative problem solving” (47).
But how to balance creativity with traditional academic discourses? In the following pages, instead of offering a panacea, I shall merely be discussing ways in which I have reformulated one assignment in my Shakespeare class. I fully admit that what I am offering here might not work for all levels of academia or suit the skillsets and preferences of all teachers. Details, I recognize, can bedevil, and my details...