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Why Research Allusions?Should we expect students to research the allusions to which...

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted March 9, 2008 at 3:34 PM via web

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Why Research Allusions?

Should we expect students to research the allusions to which Shakespeare so often refers?  Is their experience enhanced or burdened by research?

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 9, 2008 at 6:00 PM (Answer #2)

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Yes! Either they need to research allusions or we need to tell them what they mean. How can experience be a burden?  

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cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted March 9, 2008 at 7:14 PM (Answer #3)

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Why Research Allusions?

Should we expect students to research the allusions to which Shakespeare so often refers?  Is their experience enhanced or burdened by research?

Understanding the allusions enriches a student's reading of the plays. Yes, I think students should do research to develop intellectual curiosity and be active learners. Those "sponges" (pun intended) who sit in class and wait for me to explain everything aren't involved in the text, and they're missing so much. As someone who has an insatiable curiosity about so many subjects, I can hardly imagine reading something and not being able to understand references or vocabulary. But then...I'm an English teacher, as my students would say, so such behavior is inevitable. : )

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted March 9, 2008 at 7:19 PM (Answer #4)

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I agree with both of you, but I vividly recall an argument I had with a fellow teacher whose position was that the text was already so difficult, the references so dated, that the students were bogged down in minituae and being turned-off to the larger themes. 

Like Cybil, I too want to know as much as I can, but as I recall, the worry was about what sort of questions would be on the SATs, not the nuance I could bring to the text.  Do any of you have this problem?  If so, what do you do about it? 

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 9, 2008 at 8:06 PM (Answer #5)

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Believe it or not, I had an identical conversation with colleagues about this same issue on Sept. 11, 2001. The date is probably the only reason why I remember it!

I was still working at the publishing house then, and we had an editorial staff meeting. Despite what was happening elsewhere, we went on with that meeting. One of the topics on the agenda was cultural illiteracy, meaning people's lack of understanding of and use of biblical allusions. The question was whether we should contract one of our authors to write a book (that nobody would read!) about the issue. I can't remember the outcome because I kept thinking how bizarre it was that we were talking about this and not watching the news.

Given what was happening that day, I thought the matter was trivial. But it is not--and I even see a parallel here. The mindset that wants to destroy us is narrow and uneducated. If we forget our literary and historical past, we become the same.

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cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted March 10, 2008 at 5:12 AM (Answer #6)

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I agree with both of you, but I vividly recall an argument I had with a fellow teacher whose position was that the text was already so difficult, the references so dated, that the students were bogged down in minituae and being turned-off to the larger themes. 

Like Cybil, I too want to know as much as I can, but as I recall, the worry was about what sort of questions would be on the SATs, not the nuance I could bring to the text.  Do any of you have this problem?  If so, what do you do about it? 

My students are also concerned about the SATs, but I point out that the best way to prepare for the language part of the SAT is to read, read, read. Vocabulary is the key to success on the verbal reasoning section, in my opinion. If students train themselves to investigate terms they don't know, they are expanding their vocabulary, strengthening their reading skills, and thereby preparing for this standardized test. SATs do not ask fact-based questions; a student is not responsible for a body of knowledge as he or she would be for an AP exam in biology or history. Instead, students must apply skills they have developed to perform well on the test. 

Frankly, I'd be happy if more of my students knew basic mythological, historical, and Biblical allusions; however, I don't think these will necessarily guarantee success on the SAT. Reading and regular vocabulary study offer bigger payoffs. Wrestling with Shakespeare (could that be a book title?) is excellent practice. 

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted March 10, 2008 at 6:19 AM (Answer #7)

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I agree with both of you, but I vividly recall an argument I had with a fellow teacher whose position was that the text was already so difficult, the references so dated, that the students were bogged down in minituae and being turned-off to the larger themes. 

Like Cybil, I too want to know as much as I can, but as I recall, the worry was about what sort of questions would be on the SATs, not the nuance I could bring to the text.  Do any of you have this problem?  If so, what do you do about it? 

My students are also concerned about the SATs, but I point out that the best way to prepare for the language part of the SAT is to read, read, read. Vocabulary is the key to success on the verbal reasoning section, in my opinion. If students train themselves to investigate terms they don't know, they are expanding their vocabulary, strengthening their reading skills, and thereby preparing for this standardized test. SATs do not ask fact-based questions; a student is not responsible for a body of knowledge as he or she would be for an AP exam in biology or history. Instead, students must apply skills they have developed to perform well on the test. 

Frankly, I'd be happy if more of my students knew basic mythological, historical, and Biblical allusions; however, I don't think these will necessarily guarantee success on the SAT. Reading and regular vocabulary study offer bigger payoffs. Wrestling with Shakespeare (could that be a book title?) is excellent practice. 

Sadly (in my opinion) it was the parents who were more concerned about the "what-to-think" rather than the "how-to-think," thus putting pressure on our department chair to leave off the more in-depth study.  Isn't that terrible?  I taught at a very exclusive all-girls school and seemingly the only thing that was important was that ultimate test score. 

Love the book title btw.   I would read it! :) 

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clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted March 10, 2008 at 6:42 AM (Answer #8)

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Good discussion topic! I love taking the time to discuss and have students research and discuss allusions in literature. I primarily teach English Learners now and I have found that they will not ask, but they will all be wondering what was meant by the reference to whatever it was. It's a great way to get students to think about history, other literature, and a deeper understanding of culture and the reading at hand. Whether or not it helps on a high stakes test (which by the way it does, if for nothing else it gives students more confidence in their knowledge base) is irrelevant. Students shouldn't be left questioning allusions that they should know. The whole point author's make allusions is because they are operating on the assumptions that their readers know what they're talking about. If we lose that, we lose something when we're teaching the literature, the flavor of it all becomes more bland. If an author took the time to put it and we're taking the time to read it then we're certainly going to at the very least discuss what it means and why it might have been written there.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 11, 2008 at 7:41 PM (Answer #9)

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You all have such valid points.  I love the Socratic discussion method where students within the circle have different assignments/angles to prepare for and brush up on before the discussion.  One of these in my class is allusion expert--aside from reading the text, this student is to share what he/she has found as far as allusions and connections to allusions which brings another realm of understanding to the reading.  Other categories include Wordsmith (any and all vocabulary that may not be familiar) Group Leader (one or more who are in charge of keeping the discussion going and probing for beneath the surface observations and close reading) and Passage Master (this student looks for beautifully worded passages, parts that made him/her laugh or cry, interesting passages, or anything that helps the plot move along).  The students are so much better prepared, and the allusions absolutely make the discussion and depth of understanding so much more amazing.  After our inner circle completes its discussion, the students in the outer circle give their feedback about how each student did and then they trade places.  It's a great exercise. 

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malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted March 13, 2008 at 7:54 AM (Answer #10)

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You all have such valid points.  I love the Socratic discussion method where students within the circle have different assignments/angles to prepare for and brush up on before the discussion.  One of these in my class is allusion expert--aside from reading the text, this student is to share what he/she has found as far as allusions and connections to allusions which brings another realm of understanding to the reading.  Other categories include Wordsmith (any and all vocabulary that may not be familiar) Group Leader (one or more who are in charge of keeping the discussion going and probing for beneath the surface observations and close reading) and Passage Master (this student looks for beautifully worded passages, parts that made him/her laugh or cry, interesting passages, or anything that helps the plot move along).  The students are so much better prepared, and the allusions absolutely make the discussion and depth of understanding so much more amazing.  After our inner circle completes its discussion, the students in the outer circle give their feedback about how each student did and then they trade places.  It's a great exercise. 

  Amy, I love your names for the various people in your Socratic method group!  I'm working on a curriculum for a 13th level Shakespeare class and both my headmaster and I want it to be that type of discussion.  Thank you so much for some great ideas - mind if I STEAL??? :)

Yes, allusions are critical to understanding Shakespeare.  To say that the allusions are archaic and don't mean anything to modern readers/audiences is to say that Shakespeare is archaic and doesn't mean anything to modern readers/audiences (and I'm sure you all know how I feel about that!!!).  The allusions are part of him and his life and times, and I think it would be sad if we lost all of that valuable information that helps give us a glimpse into what his life might have been like.

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asorrell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted March 16, 2008 at 7:41 AM (Answer #11)

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To get students a little more excited about allusions, I introduce it to my freshmen when we do poetry.  I play "Ramble On" by Led Zeppelin and point out the allusion to the Lord of the Rings.  They are blown away.  Luckily, I'm at a school where classic rock is very popular, so I don't get moans and groans that I'm playing Led Zeppelin.  I use this to explain the idea of allusion and refer back to it when other allusions come up.  I've also used Semisonic's "Singing in my Sleep" because there's a reference to Romeo and Juliet in it.  The kids get it because it's something they're interested in and a lot of times they come up with lots of examples on their own.  I just had an in depth conversation this week with a freshmen who explained to me that the Spongebob movie has all these Odyssey references in it.  (As we were reading The Odyssey in class he says, "This is about Spongebob!)

Anyway, my point is that if we can make it interesting and grab their attention, they'll see that yes it is important that we understand allusions.  Now they all know what allusion means and they can usually pick up on them.  If they are really old and confusing, I'll explain it myself, but a lot of times I'll assign either the whole class to look it up, offer it as extra credit for someone to research it and explain it the class, etc.

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jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted March 20, 2008 at 5:11 AM (Answer #12)

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The historical context has to be introduced for some... Julius Caesar, for instance. Without a footing in the Elizabethan drama, the play does not resonate and reads as a 300 yr old history book.

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