chapterbychapter
These stories are a joy to teach, whether on their own or in conjunction with Shakespeare’s plays. Students at every level — high school, college or graduate — will be swept up by one delightful surprise after another and propelled to address the questions that matter most.
— David Lynn, Professor of English, Kenyon College; editor, The Kenyon Review.
HOW TO USE THE STORIES

 

IN SHAKESPEARE CLASSES

The stories in Taking What I Like may be assigned either before or after the Shakespeare plays they re-invent.

BEFORE ASSIGNING THE PLAYS

When assigned before the students read the play, the stories serve as a teaser and a demonstration of its contemporary relevance. On the one hand they connect the plays to current issues (racism, power politics, issues of gender and sexuality, empire, prison policies); on the other hand, they employ a highly colloquial idiom while quoting seamlessly from Shakespeare himself. The effect is to de-mystify the Shakespearean language, unobtrusively showcasing its many delights.

AFTER ASSIGNING THE PLAYS

Because the stories include brief, entertaining critical digressions, they can also be used to stimulate discussion once the plays have been read. Written in the same lively style as the rest of the stories, the critical insights model a freedom and pleasure in insight itself, making it a natural form of speech. The following quotations are examples of such provocative but painless interventions:

“What is Iago’s problem? Why does he hate Othello? Shakespeare does provide some motives, but they are contradictory, and nothing sticks. Finally, Iago’s just a troublemaker, like Shakespeare himself. Without him there would be no plot.” — from “Casting Call”

“’As if I couldn’t make things seem plausible if I wanted to,’ laughs Shakespeare—the all-time master of plausibility. His improbabilities are not a mistake but part of the point. The happy endings of the comedies actually are happy; but they also laugh up their sleeves at the very idea of both happiness and endings.” from “In the Forest”

 

IN WOMEN’S STUDIES CLASSES

The stories in Taking What I Like sometimes reframe the Shakespeare plays around their women characters (Desdemona, Cleopatra, Rosalind); sometimes include a woman character grappling with a play (Clare in “Playing Henry”) ; and regularly comment directly, if lightly, on issues of gender and sexuality. Without sacrificing her literary purposes, Bamber keeps up an unobtrusive commentary on women’s issues.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

 

Chapter 1: Casting Call

1. Using “Casting Call” as a model for the kind of delicate dynamic that surrounds discussions about diversity, think about the value diversity may add to institutions, organizations, and systems of power. Why make diversity a priority? How did Othello demonstrate the benefits of diversity in the chapter?

2. “Casting Call” takes Desdemona and gives her a voice and a sense of authority that she doesn’t have in Othello. Choose another character and think about how that character’s situation may change in a different—perhaps modern—context. This will involve detailing your chosen character’s traits.

Chapter 2: Playing Henry

1. Clare eventually comes to enjoy her role as Henry. Given the information about Henry, Richard, and John of Gaunt in this chapter, who would you want to play and why? More broadly, what character in any Shakespeare play would tap into an emotional register with which you would identify?

2. Suggest some reasons why Shakespeare may have changed John of Gaunt’s character so dramatically from the depiction that appears on p.46.

Chapter 3: Time to Teach Jane Eyre Again

1. This chapter addresses the potential difficulty an instructor faces in making an old text seem fresh and relevant. Think of a story written before the 20th Century and write about or discuss what it has to offer to a modern audience.

2. Thinking about the quote on p.77 that addresses Jane’s reaction to finding out about Bertha, make an argument about what Jane should do, given her new and old circumstances.

Chapter 4: In the Forest

1. At the end of this chapter, Phebe is sad because, according to Bamber, “her mental life is a landscape from which the central feature has been deleted” (118), and Corin later reflects that “we all make our loved ones up” (119). Think of another case in literature (or, more specifically, in Shakespeare) wherein one character may feel as though he or she made a loved one up. Explain.

2. On p.117, Bamber writes the following about Shakespeare’s endings: “‘As if I couldn’t make things seem plausible if I wanted to,’ laughs Shakespeare—the all-time master of plausibility. His improbabilities are not a mistake but part of the point. The happy endings of the comedies actually are happy; but they also laugh up their sleeves at the very idea of both happiness and endings.” Why might he write these unsettling endings? Are they happy or not? How is this (or isn’t this) reflective of life?

Chapter 5: That Was Then

1. This chapter calls attention to the different genres in which Shakespeare wrote—here comedy and history. Why would a character like Celia have difficulty inhabiting Hotspur’s world? What role does audience expectation play?

Chapter 6: Cleopatra and Antony

1. This chapter reflects the history of imperial America. How might an understanding of the interrelations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome bear upon current issues in American politics? What might the message be?

2. Bamber writes on p.142 that “Cleopatra, by contrast, is undecodable, defying characterization even as she invites it. Assured of that, we all take a turn, cooking her up as whatever we need her to be.” How did Shakespeare cook her up? What are some important characteristics of her character in the play?

Chapter 7: An Incarceration of Hamlets

1. On p.167, Bamber writes, “Not everyone is in favor of prison Shakespeare.” Using examples from this chapter, think about both sides of the debate (possibly by widening the stakes to include other resources for inmates), and create an argument that endorses or opposes prison Shakespeare.

2. Bamber includes Shakespeare’s line, “What a piece of work is man!” three times in this chapter. Think about what is gained with each repetition. How does the quote change?

Chapter 8: The Gross Clinic

1. Bamber introduces the idea of an artist’s perspective and how it inflects reality: “Eakins looked at things for a long time. He looked at his sitters so long they grew old under his gaze, so he painted them old” (p.192). Pick an image and discuss how the author’s perspective or message may have distorted its realism.

2. Bamber posits Eakins’s realism against the impressionism of his contemporaries. How might each kind of painting capture a different facet of an image? Which style speaks to you more viscerally? More intellectually? Why?

download
back-arrow