Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Friends, Romans, countrymen . . . .

Shakespeare's birthday and death day just passed, and I failed to note it. On Sunday---if he'd taken more Vitamin C and E---he might have been 442 years old. According to biographers who've nailed these facts down as closely as possible, he was born April 23, 1564 and died April 23, 1616 in England.

Our American Shakespeare, Mark Twain, has a similar distinction, though slightly different. Halleys Comet appeared both the year he was born (1835) and the year he died (1910). Maybe the stars lining up just right caused both of these men to be the most quotable of their respective nations and well-known throughout the world.

I should have noted Shakespeare's special day on Sunday cuz he's responsible for me being an accessory to murder of the assassination variety more than 100 times. Yup, my English students must've done Julius Caesar in at least 116 times cuz that's how many times I taught the bard's play, chronicling the events leading up to and following Caesar's assassination back in 44B.C. (even before I was born).

It wasn't a pretty sight either cuz the Roman Senators reportedly inflicted 33 stab wounds on their dictator. That translates into a lot of blood and gore in Mrs. Love's English class. Well, it really never got that messy, but the funeral feast afterward was always fun for the kids. They knew good times were ahead once they bumped Julius off cuz then his buddy Marc Antony would be giving his famous speech:

Friends, Romans and countrymen,
Lend me your ears.
I come to bury Caesar,
Not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred within their graves.
So, let it be with Caesar

There's really a lot more, and my kids were always asked to memorize the speech down to the part where Antony's heart popped out and landed there in the coffin with Caesar and he (Antony) had to pause into his heart came back.

Thanks to Shakespeare's literary talents and Caesar's alleged ambitious yearnings, that funeral oration served as the most memorable time of spring in most of my English classes. Now, mind you, not all kids remembered what they were supposed to say, but they remembered all the fun that went into getting ready for saying it. In many classes, speech day was toga and feast day. That meant lots of food and varying degrees of toga turnouts. Jeralyn Lewis Mire's royal purple toga stands out most in my mind.

It also meant some of the more creative approaches to parodying Marc Antony I've ever seen. The students had the option of memorizing the speech and reciting it to perfection either by a no-nonsense approach or by modifying their style of presentation. Group efforts were welcome as long as it was clear all members of the group knew the entire speech. Of course, I encountered several situations where they figured I was too dumb to notice if they divided up the speech and learned only seven or eight lines apiece.

Some of the more memorable presentations came in the form of dancing to the beat of the speech, rock band performances, and even take-offs on the "Hee Haw" and "Gilligans Island" themes. Ali Leedy, who teaches high school science near Boise, gave her speech while standing on her head. Cori Flowers, who works with troubled teens here locally, brought in a helium tank and sucked up helium while reciting her speech. One group put on a puppet show. A few others did it in pig latin (appropriate for a Roman feast, I'd say). Two boys feigned an echo.

Larri Ann Smith, who's now a doctor in Western Washington, pretended she was an old victrola that skipped and changed speeds from 33 rpm to 78 rpm. In one class, nary a kid memorized the speech past the first four lines. The hour-long lesson plan fell a bit short so they spent the rest of the hour eating donuts.

I don't know what this world or I would have done without Shakespeare's help, Caesar's death and Antony's speech. It's a terrible thing when someone has to get murdered to entertain thousands of young people for centuries to come. But if someone had to do it, the Shakespeare, Caesar and Antony triumvirate pulled off the scene well.

I'm betting that 90 percent of my students, no matter how old they're getting, could recite at least the first few lines of that funeral oration on command. If it were so, it were a grievous fault and somewhat grievously have I reported it this morning.


Karen said...

When I learned it, we did't have the fun. Way back when under Miss Dooley's eye. We also had to learn the punctuation, so the way I learned it was "Friends comma Romans comma " etc. Great memories at SHS

MLove said...

Now comma Karen comma I know for a fact that you and I are still under the watchful eye of Miss Dooley cuz she reads this blog period

Whilst reading your comment comma I noticed that I had injected a word that does not belong in my sample of the speech.

Now comma Karen comma I wonder if Miss Dooley will chastise both of us when she reads this period

Then comma maybe she apostrophe s is into her GPS enough these days that she apostrophe ll cut us some slack period

How about it comma Florine exclamation mark

Jamie said...

Wow...I had almost completely forgotten about having learned this! After reading your post, I tested myself to see how much of it I could get--I was able to go about 5-6 lines after what you supplied here. I dimly recall Scott Brixen (I think that was his name) doing something flamboyant in his presentation of this speech, but for the life of me, can't remember exactly what!