Tomorrow my students are presenting their final group projects on Titus Andronicus. They pitched the projects to me in class last week, and some of them sound fantastic. Most of the students came up with some really interesting - and sometimes unexpected - takes on themes and characters, and how they should be considered in light of current issues and trends. One group has shot an infomercial that commodifies revenge (I have a cameo as a doctor recommending the project). Several are assessing the parallels between the vengeful violence in the play and our comfort-level with gratuitous violence in popular culture. There are a few board games that track plot progression (one combines Risk with Chutes and Ladders, another is re-working the game of Life with a dual Rome/GaTech environment - not sure yet about that one). There are a couple of surveys that reveal "Which Titus Character are You," emphasizing that we're all more capable of unpalatable behavior than we would like to think. One group has fully embraced social satire in the tradition of "A Modest Proposal" and is representing the events and characters in the play in an Onion-like newspaper. They've been walking a fine line with some of their articles, but hey ... I told them to push the envelope.
As important, keying the play to the group project helped many of the students to unpack the play in a way they might not have done if they were analyzing it in an essay. In their blog posts, many have expressed surprise at how much they've enjoyed the process of brainstorming and thinking through themes in a way that resonates for them and their classmates. Several dreaded the idea of group work, confessing that they were usually the one(s) who got stuck with all the heavy lifting, but were pleasantly surprised to find that their group-mates had the same experiences and so were ready to balance the load.
So for all of their squeamishness when we began to read Titus, it has turned out to be a surprisingly positive (?) experience. It was ambitious - I realize now that I didn't begin to truly appreciate the play until I was in grad school - and these are primarily first-year non-English majors. I have to give them credit for hanging in there and committing to the projects in such creative ways, especially with every other end-of-term major assignment that they've got going on (one architecture major told me she had just pulled five all-nighters in ten days).
When I get them to sign release forms, I hope to share some of their work.