Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Stefan

As part of my reading goal this year I've decided to read the complete works of William Shakespeare, so today I pulled off my slightly dusty copy of an anthology of his works. That's when I remembered what, or I guess it's really who, showed me how to love Shakespeare - Mr. Stefan.

In junior high I was not the drama-type at all, I was more interested in art you hung on the wall. It was ninth grade before I entered Mr. Stefan's classroom. Not that I hadn't heard stories about him and his room from my older sister, but until I entered his class I didn't get it. But that first day of Shakespeare class I had an eye-opening. Mainly because what she told me was true - the potty pass was indeed a toilet seat hanging by the door. If anyone was ever forced to use it, I don't know since I have no recollection of anyone in my class attempting to leave.

Mr. Stefan didn't have the best teaching techniques - we sat for hours that year listening to videos and filling in the blanks about life in the Elizabethan era, and watching movies based on Shakespeare's plays (sadly Leo's version of Romeo and Juliet hadn't been released, yet).  But what he lacked in teaching skills he made up for in personality.

The year I took his class (1993) was the same year he starred in a local production of Fiddler on the Roof. His beard was a magical thing. He was no ordinary teacher - he was an actor, a singer - someone who knew theatre and lived it. I can still see him standing on stage, with that magical beard and I knew if he loved Shakespeare so would I.

Almost four years later, I had an opportunity to spend a few months in the UK and took the train to Stratford-upon-Avon. I toured Shakespeare's reconstructed home, walked the same sidewalks he once tread and saw a production of The Merchant of Venice at The Royal Shakespeare Company.

There's a reason it's taken me so long to break open the anthology and it has to do with the question of "Will I like it?". Part of me thinks that if I don't I'll lose just a bit of the sweetness to my memories of Mr. Stefan. But I read a blog post today by Nathan Bransford (click here) that got me thinking of how to approach this without losing anything. Don't ask "Will I like it?" but  "Did the author accomplish what he set out to do?".

So, thank you Mr. Stefan for standing at the back of the class and pressing play on those videos, for growing that beard and for showing me how to love Shakespeare (even if I'll never completely understand it). RIP 

On my iPod:

Rasputin by Boney M


  1. Great anecdote. :-) I never got to take Shakespeare in high school. I was in college-prep English, and I vaguely recall reading Julius Caesar, but that's all. Now I'm curious to read more. So much literature and so little time. :-)

    My college Brit Lit prof sounds like your high school teacher, sans the beard and movies. He's a talker - my professor. I really, really like him, though. He's great at inspiring and challenging his students.

    So out of curiosity, what did Shakespeare set out to accomplish?

  2. Wonderful post and a truly excellent endeavor. I've thought about doing the same thing... Unfortunately, that notion lasts about as long as it takes me to head to my personal library and look upon the 6 (or is it 7) volumes of his works. ;-)

  3. LOL - Good question! He went through phases with his writing. His comedies tended to look at how love can led people to do silly things and start a series of misunderstandings that in the end is conquered by love. On the other hand his tragedies found ways to break a man down to his lowest point and then drag him down even further. I think he does an amazing job of showing how motives and circumstances play into the actions we take. Just my take on it. Maybe after finishing the anthology I'll have a different view.

  4. Haha! I've had this complete anthology for about 13 years and never cracked it! I always just used individual copies of his plays when I read them, so this will be a challenge - need to make sure I have a magnify glass nearby the writing is so small!

  5. Fascinating! I aim to experience him at some point, so I love getting a sneak-peek from a personal standpoint - hearing about 'why' an author wrote - so that I can see how they translate their goal. Watching the intended process unfold fascinates me.

    Thanks for sharing your take!! :-)