My students have been working their way through Titus Andronicus over the past two weeks. I knew it was ambitious to tackle that play with first-year students who do not, on the whole, express any real enthusiasm for early modern drama. There have been successes so far, most notably their reaction to seeing a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I've written about in TECHStyle. But teaching Titus has been another story.
I've been surprised and sometimes frustrated with their apathy towards the play. It was only when we watched Julie Taymor's over-the-top Titus that they expressed any reaction at all. I was particularly disheartened when one student emailed me the other night. Drafting this week's blog post (which challenged students to identify a visceral response to a plot-point) the student asked, "What's the name of that girl in the movie who gets raped in the woods?" Um ... you've been reading the play-text, right? You do have a copy of the play ... with a dramatis personae at the beginning? Sigh.
Tom Lolis and I, who are co-teaching this course, have assigned a final project that requires groups to interpret themes and characterizations in the play in terms of current issues and trends. So far, many of the groups are developing some interesting concepts for their projects. However, very few have considered rooting their examination in specific lines from the play, choosing instead to keep at arm's length and only address the play's themes in the most abstract sense.
I'm going to take one more stab at connecting with them tomorrow. Rather than a reading-comprehension quiz I'm going to have them discuss the play without prompts from me. I tried this once last year with mixed success - I posed an initial question on the board, and then sat mute until students took the initiative to respond and interact with each other. I haven't yet decided what that initial question will be, and I fully expect that the process will be uncomfortable for me as well as for them, but it's my last gasp at determining what they have taken away from the experience.
If anything worthwhile comes of it, I'll be back.