Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Willie the Shakes & the McDougall Method

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
-William Shakespeare

Willie the Shakes was born on this day four hundred and fifty years ago.  Were he still alive today, he would be really, really old.  He is not.  He died, in fact, at age fifty-two.  He had a playwright's sense of timing even in death - dying fifty-two years to the day from the day on which he was born.  Tough break for the stone mason at the cemetery I suppose having to carve a headstone that read "04/23/64 - 16" as opposed to two separate lines (one for the date of birth and one for the date of death).  

My education was not that different from the rest of the world I suppose in that at W-H, Shakespeare was thrust upon us in several different English classes.  The best time I had studying him was in 8th grade.  My English teacher was Alec McDougall, who was Martin and Ruth's father.  Mr. McDougall was a Scotsman and a trained actor who had performed in a variety of Shakespearan plays in small theatre companies in England and in the United States.  

In Mr. McDougall's class, we did not just read Shakespeare, we inhaled him.  Among the most vivid memories of my secondary school education are those of Mr. McDougall, who was a hair or two more than five feet tall, in full-on acting mode with his little face all scrinched up and his entire head turning beet red, which when set off against his stark white hair gave him the visage of the world's smallest killer tomato.  Picture if you will Linda Blair in The Exorcist both during and immediately after one of her 'episodes' and you have a pretty good understanding of the transformation that Mr. McDougall would undergo while reciting Shakespeare's words.  At the time, there were days when it veered off the tracks temporarily from entertaining to terrifying but it never once was anything less than enthralling. 

I enjoyed Shakespeare when I read his plays in high school.  Three-plus decades later I still do.  I think my appreciation for him is owed in significant part to the way in which the work was taught to me.  Alec McDougall's love for Shakespeare's work was genuine and absolute and he shared his love for it with those of us in his class with unbridled enthusiasm.   If there is a better way in which to teach such works to 13 and 14 year-old American school kids, I know not what it might be.  

For me, the McDougall Method made all the difference.   

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
- William Shakespeare
"Julius Caesar" 


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