Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

"But then begins a journey in my head, / To work my mind"

During this month’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute, some of our Summer Scholars have chosen to blog their experiences on their own sites, and have given permission to share some of them here. Today, Gabriel Fernandez shares his experience from a few days in the middle of the scholarly marathon that is TSI:

July 14, 2012

Today was our first research Saturday at the Folger. I am getting a bit tired, a bit burned out although I did hold books in my hands which were printed in 1596, 1600, and 1610, respectively. I was almost scared to even touch those books since they are so rare. You wonder whose hands they went through, whose fingerprints are on their pages, whose sweat and blood even, and what kinds of human lives those books migrated through. What kind of life have those books had? You wish they could talk. Today they migrated through my life!

July 15, 2012

Today is Sunday, and I enjoyed my day off. In the morning, I went with Katie to mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It is a beautiful church. Standing above the altar is a unique painting of Jesus rising from the dead. It depicts a Christ who is seemingly angry, almost enraged, and muscular, ready to mete out justice: one who demands his due since He paid his dues. This is a picture of Jesus that is hardly seen. It is a beautiful and thought-provoking work of art.

In the afternoon, Rob T, Kim, and I went to the hallowed and holy grounds of Gettysburg. One can almost cut with a knife the atmosphere of pain and suffering, of loss and demoralization, of the human stain tattooed on those fields of that American “band of brothers” fighting, to the death, against each other. You can even envision those bodies piled one upon the other–“And pile them high at Gettysburg / I am the grass. / I cover all.” (Sandburg, “Grass”). It has been a day I will never forget. I brought some rocks back from Gettysburg! And what’s up with that small Texas monument at Gettysburg? Come on Lone Star State!

July 16, 2012

            The third week of the Teaching Shakespeare Institute began with our study of Othello. Mike Witmore, the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, gave an interesting lecture in the morning. He raised the issue thatOthello is the story of someone who hears the lies he wants to hear, the lies he can, ultimately, not resist. These are lies he seems to wish were true, lies which seem to commune so well with his body and spirit that he finds it very hard to extricate himself from their power. This argument asks an interesting question of us. Can we, as human beings, resist the power of the irresistible lie? Some form of the irresistible lie exists for each of us– tailored and crafted to every individual’s needs, wants, worries, fears, and concerns. Personally, I have succumbed to that power in my life (while I probably still believe that particular lie).

Donna Denizé and Louisa Newlin gave an absolutely amazing talk onOthello in the afternoon. Donna reminded us that Othello is the inexperienced lover, not quite sure how to handle love, not quite sure how to love, and not quite sure how to accept it. He loses control when he falls in love because he releases a fragile vulnerability. In fact, Denizé states that Othello and Desdemona have a spiritual love, a love which is above sexuality, and in the end, perhaps Othello feels, deep down within, that he does not deserve Desdemona in the first place. After all, Othello wooed Desdemona with “his honors and his valiant parts.” Iago recognizes Othello’s flaw, his inborn incredulity, and feeds on it, like a maggot on an open wound.

July 17, 2012

Eight more days to go after today. Where has the time gone? I’m so busy that I have a funny feeling the remainder of this week and next week will fly by. Plus, I’m ready to go home. DC is great, a wonderful, cosmopolitan city, but it’s not where I belong, although this experience has really changed my life, and I have made a bunch of new friends, and everyone I have met and spent time with is great in his or her own way. There is a great quote from W. Somerset Maugham in The Moon and Sixpence about knowing not only where your home is, but where one belongs:

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.

Maybe San Anto, Tejas is my place of rest.

Today in discussion with Stephen Dickey we delved into a study of Iago. It seems Iago is indeed truthful, although he picks and chooses what truths to tell. The comparison was brought up between Iago and the devil (the serpent) while Othello and Desdemona are the Adam and Eve archetypes. Othello and Desdemona seem to carry a pristine innocence within, much like Adam and Eve. Yet, I still have to question the innocence of Othello. This character, this man, is a warrior. He has killed people, and he has mostly likely ordered people to be killed. At his core, he is a soldier. I question his innocence, his inexperience. He has been in “battles,” “sieges,” “hair-breadth scapes,” “sold to slavery.” He is Theseus, he is Perseus, he is Hercules. He is the mythological figure who has seemingly seen it all. So how can he fail so miserably in his marriage to Desdemona? Is it some intrinsic flaw, some recognition of character, of truth, that won’t allow him to love and all Iago has to do is make this truth evident to Othello? Is this why Verdi referred to Iago as “The Truth?” Iago’s piecemeal rendition of the essence of Othello, an essence of being Othello can’t even seem to delineate for himself, the verities of his being, seemingly result in Othello’s downfall. In short, Iago holds up the mirror to Othello’s nature, and the Moor only has to follow, naturally, along.

We also embarked on a discussion of the handkerchief. This article of cloth ties into my argument. I argue that the handkerchief, an instrument, a vessel, of cleanliness, since it’s main purpose is meant to “clean,” is a symbol of Othello’s attempt to clean himself, through the pristine angelic innocence of Desdemona, of egregious errors to his soul. What these errors are is up to debate. In other words, the handkerchief is emblematic of Othello’s attempt to gain not a divine redemption, but a human one. Desdemona can redeem Othello. Once she misplaces it, Othello loses his chance at any redemption, and like any warrior off the field of battle, like Odysseus floating amongst the winds of the gods, he flounders, and ultimately, fails.
Gabriel is a Reading Instructor at the Upward Bound Program for High School Students as well as an Adjunct instructor in Developmental English at Northwest Vista College. He has published numerous newspaper editorials, academic papers, and poems; in addition he has had several plays produced. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Texas at San Antonio following an Associate of Applied Science degree in Criminal Justice at San Antonio College. Gabriel is currently earning a Master of Arts degree in Education at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. 

One Comment

  • Love the Maugham quote. Thing is, no matter how homesick one gets for “home” while participating in TSI, that pull back to the Folger is ever strong; the Folger is more than “a place of passage.” The Folger is that place TSI alum know is “the home [we] sought,” even before we knew we were searching for such a place. And even though we alum may never meet this year’s participants, we will be bound to them through the TSI experience.

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