Step 1: Get a quill pen. Step 2: Be a genius.
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Ohio Wesleyan Associate Professor of English and Department Chair Zack Long designed a course with the goal of having his students write a new Shakespearean play.
“What can I do that would be fun, interesting, and even a little experimental?” Long thought. The result—a cross between a literature class and a creative writing workshop—was called “How to Write Like Shakespeare.”
In this course, Long says, rather than just demonstrating their understanding of The Bard through an essay test or a critical paper, students put theory into practice, writing their own plays employing Shakespearean themes and methods.
Julia Stone ’16 says the class began by reading Two Gentlemen of Verona and Othello, and students focused not so much on the works themselves, but how the playwright was crafting his work.
“It was definitely a different way of reading Shakespeare,” Stone says.
The students then broke off into two groups—one decided to write a comedy about modern love and social media, and the other chose to create a tragedy about Tom Riddle from the Harry Potter series. Long says the students’ choices were made in traditional Shakespearean fashion because Shakespeare himself often took popular texts and used them to write plays because they would be “guaranteed hits.”
Hannah Simpson ’16 says a big challenge was using language from 1600, for instance, trying to figure out “where to use ‘you’ and where to use ‘thou.’” Both groups also faced the challenge of writing in verse.
The Harry Potter group developed a plot outline and then wrote directly in verse, while the social media group decided to write “barebones scenes” in contemporary language and then translate them into verse.
Students say the payoff was a new understanding about the techniques in the craft of creative writing.
Nash Bonnema ’19 says he “definitely [has] a new appreciation of mechanics and tropes.”
Jordan Waterwash ’18 adds, “I just get it now.”