“Who’s there?" “Nay, answer me. stand and unfold yourself”: Attending to students in diversified settings

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I should begin with an explanation of my title. This essay will have nothing to do with Hamlet, from which the lines are borrowed; it is directed instead toward the reciprocities of teaching Shakespeare’s work to diverse groups of readers-diverse in backgrounds, interests, educational backgrounds, and opportunities. I appropriate Shakespeare’s lines here because they speak to a range of experiences and responses that themselves might be said to typify-if that is even possible-how some of my students have experienced their engagements with Shakespeare. The lines from Hamlet open the play, and are spoken by Bernardo and Francisco, two sentinels on watch-unsure for (or against) what-on the castle walls at Elsinore. They are of course old friends, but in the dark and the cold in the middle of the night, muffled against the elements, they do not immediately recognize each other. Francisco challenges his comrade to “stand and unfold” himself. In thinking about how I have been teaching Shakespeare’s plays, and to whom, for nearly half a century, it occurs to me that “stand[ing] and unfold[ing]” themselves is what I have asked the plays to do, and it is also what 172I have asked my students to do. The texts and the situations represented in Shakespeare’s plays often seem at best strange and alien to their own language and experiences, if not completely cloaked and unrecognizable. My challenge as their teacher has been to facilitate their requirement that these texts reveal themselves to their uneasy readers. In confronting each other-often in the cold and in the dark, so to speak, wary of an unfamiliar challenger-Shakespeare’s plays and my students often seem to dance around each other, a little guarded, a little nervous, hoping that it will all turn out OK and no one will die from it.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHow and Why We Teach Shakespeare
Subtitle of host publicationCollege Teachers and Directors Share How They Explore the Playwright’s Works with Their Students
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781000004816
ISBN (Print)9780367190798
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019


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