Faculty Spotlight: Garry Walton

In this video, Garry Walton, Ph.D., Mary Lynch Johnson Professor of English, talks about the challenges and opportunities of teaching Shakespeare in a 21st century classroom.


One of the fundamental questions for any teacher, regardless of the grade level or the subject matter, is how to make the students fall in love with the material as much as we as teachers love it. I remember reading the plays of Shakespeare and high school and college without falling in love with them. But that changed for me in grad school thanks to an enthusiastic professor and the availability of performances both live and on down. So in my own teaching, I’ve tried to start with enthusiasm. I’ve tried to always include performance and sometimes to use technology.

And last summer, when I went to the 10th World Shakespeare Congress in Stratford and London. There I had a chance to meet with other faculty from all over the world and talk about how to teach digital Shakespeare in this new world. One thing we discovered last spring in the Shakespeare class is that the 16 students using eight different versions of the text. Because there is now a multiplicity of varieties available. But they were using several different platforms. Some on laptop, some on their tablets, some even on their cell phones. And something really changes in the classroom when literally the teacher and the student are not on the same page.

But if that multiplicity of texts creates problems, the multiplicity of performances is a wonderful opportunity. Students can now access over 250 professional quality performances of Shakespeare’s plays on DVD or on streaming video. And that really makes a difference in how they come to understand the pipes. But what is the role of the teacher in such performance centered, student-centered classroom? One of the things the teacher still can do is set the context for the student learning by posing questions, by inviting them to look at key scenes, by framing what’s going to happen before they read or before they launch. The next step, the truly important is inviting the students to review after they read or they view for the last 10 years, Meredith students have been writing reviews of live performances and a film performances, and those have been posted on the Meredith College website. Over 400 different student articles are now available. And what has changed is the way the students talk about and think about their writing.

When they know the audience is not just the teacher, but it’s their classmates or whoever is tuning in from around the world. After we consider the multiplicity of texts and the multiplicity of filmed performance is the next step, it seems to me, is for students to create their own procurement. We started class with a particular speech or a famous scene. Then they move to getting a partner and bringing props and costumes into that performance. But the ultimate goal is for students to create their own filmed performances that then we can post online and again, can be shared all over the world. We got started on this last spring, width of creative young colleague, Dr. Tina Roman Ellie, when we recruited Merida’s students and faculty and alarms like Judge Sara Parker to record for us one of Shakespeare’s a 154 sonnets. Then under wished I am for sure. Or twice, for me laughs, where the next project for us is going to be to work with the Meredith’s Technology Services Office to make films of performance is that we’ll share.

So these are the kinds of things that I talked about with my colleagues at the World Shakespeare Congress last summer. How the world of Shakespeare studies these being transformed by performance, by technology and by new student creativity. If that’s what I took to England, what did I bring back? In my nine days last summer, I was able to attend seven professional productions of plays. I regularly study and teach Hamlet, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth at London’s recreated Globe Theatre. And the production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Kenneth Branagh. At the conference, I saw performances under original stage conditions in Elizabethan costume with men playing women. I was able to hear musicians performing on 16th century instrument on an outdoor stage and to witness amazing candle lit theater indoors. While in Stratford out was invited on a private tour of Shakespeare’s birthplace and the family home do you place the grammar school was Shakespeare’s presumed to have attended. And Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried. Most importantly, I worked with scholars from around the world on the topic of digital Shakespeare to investigate new ways of teaching and researching and archiving the brave new world of Shakespeare Studies. Today, this amazing educational experience was made possible by Meredith College faculty development support. And all of these scholarly adventures have already begun to transform the Shakespeare courses at Meredith.

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