My aim as a teacher of early modern literature and textual studies is to cultivate in students a critical awareness of the mutually constitutive relationship between ‘medium’ and ‘message’. Literature is not simply an abstract ideal and artistic construct, nor is it merely the inanimate sum of its formal elements and physical constituents. This requires introducing students to the cultural, historical, and material conditions of textual production, circulation, and reception, and to the technologies that enable these processes. How do different text technologies shape the experiences of authors and readers? What meanings are conveyed by typography, layout, bibliographical format, or colour? What did it mean to be an ‘author’ in Elizabethan England? How does an understanding of the mechanical processes of setting type and other print-shop practices affect our reading and editing of early printed works?
Texts circulated in manuscript, print, and performance during the early modern period. In the intervening centuries, this selection has grown to include a range of ‘new’ media: radio, film, television, music, opera and song, graphic novels, fine art, pop culture, CD-ROM, computer software, the Internet, smart-phone apps, and so on. Thus, to teach early modern literature – Shakespeare, in particular – is also to teach the history of media and technological change. As a result, it is also an invitation to explore literary adaptation and appropriation as creative, cultural, historical, and political processes.
According to Plato, ‘serious things cannot be understood without laughable things, nor opposites at all without opposites, if one is really to have intelligence of either’ (Laws 7.816d–e). Diversity is central to my pedagogy, linking my three teaching goals: (1) To inspire a greater appreciation and understanding of early modern literature and textual studies by exposing students to a range of critical approaches and methodologies; (2) To facilitate the development of independent and collaborative learning skills; and, (3) To ensure variety in course content and assessment in ways that reward student initiative and encourage creativity.
Dr Brett Greatley-Hirsch
School of English, University of Leeds
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS2 9JT