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Elder college often disappoints, undermines its aim
by Jake Highton
Oct 17, 2013 | 1204 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shakespeare seems to bring out the worst in reverential people: the obtuseness, the dullness and hyped-up presentation of a poet and dramatist who needs no glamorization.

Some people believe that Shakespeare can only be understood in a modern version. Thus, the line from “Macbeth,” “The night is long that never finds the day,” is rendered in one modern version: “A new day will come at last.”

The modernized version is prose: flat and dull. It is a desecration. Shakespeare’s line is not just poetic but perfectly expresses the long, sleepless night we insomniacs endure.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (Olli), a branch of the University of Nevada, Reno, is a wonderful concept. We are never too old to study, learn and expand our horizons.

But one Shakespeare lecturer at Olli, Jim Glenn, marred the Bard with a droning, irrelevant, academic presentation. The lecture was so bad I walked out after enduring 45 minutes.

Glenn, who has read most of the Shakespeare plays several times and seen numerous productions of them, rambled on about the genealogy of the Shakespeare family, about Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, and their children.

He discussed Shakespeare’s extensive learning at Stratford grammar school but not Ben Jonson’s sour remark in the preface to the First Folio in 1623 that Shakespeare had “small Latin and less Greek.”

The greatest poet of all time was forgotten for a discussion of trivia.

Another Olli failure is English Professor James Mardock, UNR Shakespeare specialist. He is presenting a four-part series on “Richard III.” Fine. Richard is one of the great villains in all literature, his magnificent opening soliloquy a frank disclosure of his evil intent.

Yet Mardock gets too technical and too lengthy about classical Greek views of tragedy. He uses unpronounceable words describing tragedy. He makes irrelevant observations about Christopher Marlowe but ignores his “mighty line” that influenced Shakespeare.

Mardock displays words from the text on the screen but they are too small for many in the audience to read. He has volunteers in the auditorium read the non-Richard parts but some read badly. Many readers were inaudible.

Mardock’s ultimate failing: he performs rather then explains and enlightens. He cavorts, prances, runs, leaps and kneels. He has most of the elders in the auditorium laughing and applauding. But I was neither amused nor informed.

His performance reminded me of the Queen’s tart observation about a Polonius speech:  “More matter, with less art (manner).” [“Hamlet,” act two, scene two, line 95.]

Mardock emotes Richard’s lines from one spot but jumps to another spot on stage to comment on them. As absurd as frenetic. He smothers the greatness of Shakespeare with pyrotechnics.

In my view, the wooing scene in “Richard III” is incredulous, perhaps the most unbelievable scene in Shakespeare. But the point is not what I, a mere lover of Shakespeare, think, but what Mardock thinks. He never addresses the question.

Nor does he answer the question he poses in the Olli brochure: “The potentially most disturbing aspect of Shakespeare is his ability to bring us into his story.” What’s disturbing about that? Isn’t that what most authors strive for?

Olli doesn’t need dull history or frenzied presentations. It needs excitement, maybe even passion, but not dramatic turns. It needs command of the subject, but not bloated presentations.                                                    

Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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