Shakespeare's Guide to Critical Hope and Empathy:
Conversations About Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century
“What is the purpose of education: to teach ourselves to accept the world as it is or to risk the broken-heartedness necessary to the creation of an alternative future?”
This is not a “how to teach Shakespeare” book. Rather it is a book that asks: “Why teach?” and “Why teach Shakespeare?” and “How do we find and share our joy?”
Standing at the intersection of Shakespeare Studies and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, this book makes the case for the classroom experience as a rich site of knowledge production and challenges the typical disciplinary division of “real” research from its less-valued cousin, “just” teaching. We draw on our collective 60 years of experience teaching Shakespeare in university classrooms in order to ask: What does it mean to create a classroom animated by the values of critical hope and empathy? How does the polyphony of Shakespeare’s theatre and his plays provide a model for 21st-century active learning? How can the hopeful classroom generate fresh insights into the cultural, historical, and critical importance of the plays and help us to meet the challenges of difficult knowledge and the century’s “wicked” problems?
Privileging a diversity of voices engaged in important debates for which there is no easy answer, Shakespeare’s plays and our active engagement with them help student- and teacher-researchers together to practice critical empathy, the ability to occupy, appreciate, and responsibly interrogate the perspectives of others. Such capacity is crucial in the fraught global climate of the 21st century, and higher education is one key space where future global citizens are fostered and supported. In exploring the joy of teaching and experiencing Shakespeare, we advocate for a critical hope fueled by values of integrity, of ethical and moral responsibility, of citizenship and engagement. In other words, we employ Shakespeare in the work of “The hopeful challenging the actual in the name of the possible” (Ira Shor, When Students Have Power).
The book features conversations about four popular Shakespeare plays: King Lear, Hamlet, As You Like It, and Henry V. Individual essays on the plays by each of the three co-authors provide distinct perspectives unified by our shared interest in the classroom as a site of knowledge-production and the role Shakespeare plays in helping us to cultivate critical empathy. Unlike a typical essay collection, however, each essay set features marginal conversation among the authors, modeling the polyvocal, multiplicitous and collaborative nature of active learning and Shakespearean staging, and destabilizing the authoritative claims of any one perspective in favour of complexity and “difficult knowledge.”