OMG, What Is Up with the Ghost?
If you believe, as I do, that writing helps you think and that reading helps you write, then you may be as amused as I am at some recent developments in teaching both. I say “amused” so I don’t have to overreact with words like “aghast” or “appalled” or “repulsed.”
It seems that reading the ridiculously watered down and frequently inaccurate Cliffsnotes versions of the classics takes too much time and requires too much effort, so the company has produced short videos (about 7 minutes) of six commonly taught Shakespeare plays including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth. Cliffsnotes Films are co-produced by Mark Burnet, whose production credits include “Survivor” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” You can see the logical career path.
Let me give you an example noted in EducationLIfe of just how accessible Cliff has made Hamlet, for example. Here’s the original:
Gertrude: Good Hamlet, cast thy knighted
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark…
Here’s Cliff’s translation:
Gertrude: So turn that frown upside down!
You don’t even have to know the original text in Romeo and Juliet to get the full impact of Cliff’s version:
Juliet: OMG, that was like so hot.
Let’s totes get married.
Romeo: I’ll get a priest.
Pretty amusing, right? I say “amusing,” of course, instead of “shoot me now.”
Cliffsnotes have been around since 1958, and I’m not going to pretend that none of my students ever used them while I was teaching high school English (not in 1958, of course). And I understand that companies have to evolve to survive (see Kodak). Cliff is now an action figure who calls the public library the “Fortress of Bookitude.” In addition, the company also offers notes on every subject, including math and foreign languages. I should point out that it’s much harder to dumb down those two disciplines than it is literature.
Still, if you remember ShrinkLits (Seventy of the world’s towering classics cut down to size), you know that publishers have never been able to resist the urge to reduce great literature to a McNugget. ShrinkLits, however, were pretty clever and didn’t pretend they would prepare you for the unit test.
Here’s the opening of the ShrinkLit version of Beowulf:
“Monster Grendel’s tastes are plainish.
Breakfast: Just a couple Danish.”
Here’s King Lear:
“Daughters three had aged Lear,
Two were rotten, one sincere.”
Some students have always looked for a way to reduce literature to a simple plot, a couple of characters, and maybe a theme (not what the author was trying to say, but what he said). But we read literature to think, to open our minds, to reason, to understand how the world works. That’s the teacher’s challenge. Thanks a lot, Cliff. Like totes useless.
Later this week: Modern writing instruction.