- Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare's English History Plays ed. by Laurie Ellinghausen
Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare's English History Plays, edited by Laurie Ellinghausen and featuring almost thirty short essays, as well as a short but useful introductory section that identifies helpful resources, adds another valuable volume to the mla Approaches to Teaching World Literature series. The series is designed to address works, traditions, or authors "widely taught at the undergraduate level," and it is "intended to serve specialists as well as nonspecialists" ("mla Book Series"). Consequently, this is not a resource designed to provide detailed close readings or an overview of the most recent scholarship on the history plays; [End Page 132] although some chapters may offer new insights into the plays, even for experienced teachers, the main function of this book is to provide an array of suggestions for teaching. The focus, therefore, tends to be more on matters of pedagogy and practical classroom work (for example, suggested exercise or assignments, or research strategies—including many very interesting suggestions for the use of electronic resources) than on direct engagement with the texts of the plays themselves. Teachers of Shakespeare looking for ways to vary or modify their teaching practice will find much to consider here.
One of the most valuable things about this collection is that it covers the full range of the plays traditionally grouped under the "history" heading: the Henry plays (all of them, including Henry VIII), the Richard plays, and King John. Perhaps the relatively recent consensus that Edward III is also Shakespeare's explains its omission here, although it has been included in The Riverside Shakespeare (identified along with the Norton as one of the two most popular editions among those surveyed while compiling this project) for quite some time and is available as part of the full Norton package (digital only)—or perhaps it is simply taught so infrequently that no contributor to this volume has used it in class. Its exclusion is a minor weakness, at best, as I doubt that the target audience of undergraduate teachers of Shakespeare are likely to select it for classroom use anyway. Somewhat less helpful for that target audience is the fact that the index does not include the plays themselves, so one cannot do a quick check to find all the places in the book where the play or plays one is interested in might be considered. While many chapter titles do identify which plays the author has used, many do not. Since many readers of this book may be interested in suggestions for only one or two plays, they are put in the position of having to read the whole book, or at least scan the chapters, to find potentially useful material, which makes the book somewhat less user-friendly than it might be.
Nevertheless, this is a useful book, both for the experienced teacher of Shakespeare's history plays and the teacher beginning to develop curriculum. Newer teachers will benefit especially from the opening section, "Part One: Materials," which offers a digestible summary of valuable resources, from brief comments on which editions of Shakespeare are most used, through short sections on language, sources, other useful primary texts, recommended secondary readings, the critical traditions surrounding the plays, performance history, and digital resources. These are brief introductions, not exhaustive, so they provide teachers with good starting points [End Page 133] without being overwhelming; they leave readers who interested in a particular approach to dig more deeply on their own.
More generally useful is "Part Two: Approaches," itself subdivided into sections focusing on "Primary Sources," "Political, Intellectual, and International Contexts," "Theory and Criticism," "Gender," "Teaching through Research, Writing, and Performance," "Contemporary Media," "Classroom Contexts," and, finally, a short guide to internet resources by Hugh Macrae Richmond, creator of the Shakespeare-focused website Shakespeare's Staging. As these section titles indicate, the book lends itself to a variety of approaches, so individual users will find some sections more useful than others. Lynne Bruckner's chapter, for instance, "Richard II: Presentism, Pedagogy, Ecocriticism," in the theory and...