Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In Which I Stand Up to Shakespeare

This is another in the Life of Kiki/Kiki Studies Abroad in England series.  Last week I posted on my Facebook page that I'd write about the first three topics people posted (the perks of liking my page!), and Sunnie chose another England post.  So here you go!  If you want to read the other England posts, click HERE

I mean no offense to the Brits here, but I was shocked at how easy university was there.  Perhaps Kingston University (where my school, Mary Washington University, had an exchange program) wasn't the most stellar, or maybe it's a cultural thing.  Whatever the reason, I had the easiest semester of my life.

The English friends I had were always complaining about their course load, but as a general rule, they took three (THREE) classes a semester.  Can I say it again?  THREE CLASSES A SEMESTER.  I had taken seventeen credits the semester before (that's five classes plus two education practicums equaling twenty-one actual hours of class a week) so taking three courses plus a required British Life and Culture class was a vacation.

The class I was most excited about was Shakespeare.  Being a nerd, I sometimes read his plays just for fun.  The idea of taking a Shakespeare class taught by someone with a British accent while IN London was downright sexy.  Okay, maybe sexy is the wrong word.  But it sounded amazing.

Cut to the first day of class.  British professor complete with accent, reading from sonnets:  amazing!  And then he introduces the other professor.  Weren't we lucky--that semester, the class was being co-taught by an American.  Boo!  From the moment this guy stood up to speak, I thought he was nuts.  And not in the what-a-genius-he's-so-crazy kind of way.  More like the he-thinks-he-knows-what-he's-talking-about-but-is-really-an-idiot kind of way.

He had some kind of insane pie chart and series of mathematical calculations about random things that supported some theory about Shakespeare based on nothing that anyone cared about.  Another moment of being embarrassed to be an American as the British students around me giggled and whispered about this dumb madman and his pie chart.  Get back the beauty of the literature, dummy!

Classes at uni (as Brits call university, which I usually referred to as college) met once or twice a week.  Shakespeare had one larger lecture and then a smaller discussion class.  Guess who got paired with the batty American professor?  Every student from the US.  No British students.  Just those of us in the exchange program.  Thanks a lot, university.  We came all this way to study with...someone we could have studied with back home.  Lovely.

I was ticked.  I tried to hope for the best, since there was no switching, but in a small group, this guy was even worse.  Offensive even.  I missed class once and Ginny told me that he tried to make each of the seven people in the small class discuss how they thought sex would be between the characters in Othello.  I'm not kidding.  Thankfully I wasn't there, because I'm pretty sure I would have had a few things to say to my professor.  Which characters have the best sex should NEVER be part of a Shakespeare discussion.  Can I get a witness?

Which brings me to the time I stood up to my Shakespeare professor.

There are a few things in life that strike me with a cold-sweat, freezing-in-your-tracks kind of terror.  Or at least a discomfort to a level that makes me want to die.  They are, in no particular order:  being made to dance in front of people; being approached by someone in one of those mascot costumes or having to interact with them; having to do anything act-y or dramatic unless I volunteer; and singing karaoke.   Someone could show up right this moment and tell me I have to give a speech to 500 people immediately and I would say okay.  That seems like a fun challenge to me.  But keep all the giant bumblebees doing the macarena and the karaoke machines away from me.

One day in class, Batty Professor asked me to read in class.  I don't mind reading out loud.  Toss that in with the speeches.  But he didn't just want me to read--he wanted a dramatic reading.  I don't remember the passage, but it was something emotional and passionate and all the sudden I started feeling that cold sweat and panic.  This sounded way too close to acting and sent me into a kind of freakish panic.

"No, thank you," I said.  Normally I had no trouble speaking in class or speaking my mind and I expected him to go on to someone else.

Instead, he insisted.  I declined again.  "Why?"  Batty Professor asked.

By this point, I was blushing and the other students were starting to look at me funny.  "I would just rather not, thanks,"  I said.  Still being polite, still thinking he would go on to one of the other seven people in class.

"You'll be fine,"  he said.  "Read."  Feeling resigned, but tired of battling, I thought--how bad could it be?  and began to read.

I wasn't two lines in before he interrupted me.  "No, no no,"  said Batty Professor.  I honestly don't remember what exactly he critiqued about my reading.  I'm a fine regular reader.  But again, dramatic readings smack a little too much of acting, which makes me feel way uncomfortable.  He spent what felt like a good ten minutes picking apart my reading, re-reading it in a correct, much better way--all the while my embarrassment and a sort of rage was growing.  Then he asked me to start over and to do it in the way he intended.

"No,"  I said.

"I'm sorry?"  Batty Professor looked genuinely confused.

"NO.  I'm not reading,"  I said.

Now we were hitting one of those moments in class that rarely happens.  One of those moments where something decidedly not-normal happens, whether it be someone getting sick in the middle of class or having some kind of emotional breakdown or getting too emotional.  Ever experienced one of those moments?  A bizarre tension fills the room.  People don't know where to look, but sort of stare incredulously or awkwardly around.

I know this may seem really trivial to you, but if you can imagine yourself being coerced into a public situation that made you feel fairly uncomfortable, and then being criticized for your actions, you might get a sense of the humiliation and anger I was feeling at this moment.  I felt, quite simply, pushed too far.  And once I had dug my heels in, this time I was not letting up.

I was red-faced.  Embarrassed.  Angry.  And still he pushed.

I honestly don't know how long this went on, but it seemed endless to me.  In the end, I did not give in and he either had someone else read, or moved on to something else.

Now this seems like such a small stand to take, but at the time, saying no was hard for me.  Saying no is still hard for me when I'm not in a comfortable situation, or if I'm not speaking with a true friend.  When I first meet people or have a more surface-type relationship, I am much more of a yes (wo)man.  Especially with professors or people in positions of power that I respect. My professor's insistence felt like bullying to me.  He never tried to figure out why I was uncomfortable in the first place, and made the situation worse.  Though it was hard, awkward, and ridiculously embarrassing, instead of backing down, I stood my ground.

Shakespeare in London isn't always what you hope it would be.

1 comment:

  1. I remember the awkwardness. It was horrible. HE was horrible. Do you remember his name? I wonder what became of him....


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