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Shakespeare pour la jeunesse, ou l'éternelle jeunesse de Shakespeare

Appertaining to thy young days”: The End of the Academe in Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Curriculum for the Future

Daniel Bender


La langue littéraire des textes de la première modernité est si éloignée que le statut de Shakespeare dans l’enseignement est en crise, et cette crise doit inciter à innover. Comment les enseignants peuvent-ils présenter le texte shakespearien, en particulier celui d’une comédie décrite comme « festive », de façon à attirer les étudiants de nos jours ? Cet article suggère quelques pistes. On considère l’adolescence comme une période de développement intellectuel préparant à l’âge adulte, période pendant laquelle la capacité de prise de décision est incomplète. C’est pourquoi les étudiants à l’université sont placés sous la supervision d’adultes : leurs professeurs, par exemple. Les experts en développement reconnaissent la nécessité d’aider les jeunes étudiants à gagner en indépendance et en maîtrise de leur environnement. Pourtant les études shakespeariennes n’ont pas suivi cette voie, partant du principe que les étudiants prennent plaisir à lire des textes anciens, même si ces lectures détournent leur attention de problèmes plus immédiats, tels la gestion de l’argent, l’émergence d’une sexualité et les compétences interpersonnelles qui sous-tendent la réussite personnelle et professionnelle. Les personnages adolescents de Peines d’amour perdues sont clairement désignés comme des novices en matière de transactions financières, de relations sexuelles protégées et de talents pour la conversation. Ces trois domaines peuvent servir de base à un nouveau programme, qui combinerait les pratiques d’interprétation traditionnelles à un apprentissage centré sur les compétences pratiques recherchées par les lycéens et jeunes étudiants de nos jours.

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Academics and Practical Action: Pracademics

  • 1 William Shakespeare, Love’s Labor’s Lost, John Arthos, ed., New York, Penguin Books, 1965. Future r (...)
  • 2 A. M. Sidorkin, “In the Event of Learning: Alienation and Participative Thinking in Education”, Edu (...)

1The phrase “appertaining to thy young days” occurs in a conversation between the excessively courtly Armado and his boy servant Moth. The phrase just quoted and the amused title of “tender juvenal” he confers on Moth represent Armado’s characteristic language: ornate, bookish, bearing the hallmarks of an “academe” that he pretends to belong to. In favoring ornate diction over plain style, the bookish over the colloquial, Armado is positioned as the satiric version of old-school Tudor humanism, an educational system that promoted copy books—phrases collected from Latin authors—as a resource for memorization and a means to eloquence. By contrast, Moth subjects the ornateness he hears in Armado’s speech to critique. In steady resistance to his superior’s rhetorical performances, Moth habitually breaks through the sweet smoke of Armado’s rhetoric. In a culminating moment of resistance to his master, Moth uses the Pageant of the Nine Worthies to chasten Armado (“Master, let me take you a button hole lower,” 5.2.7001). This is a rare breach of the social code; a servant cannot safely criticize his master’s pretentiously learned stance. Only the ladies of the French court, bothered by the four courtiers and their stylized Petrarchan performance, can demand change. They formulate a year-long probationary period, a de facto curriculum that focuses on personal development and social skills conducive to workable relations between the two groups. In assigning this year-long alternative to the failed academe, the “maiden council” unknowingly enters a discursive present where current educational theory, calling for an end to the “inconsequential ethos of schoolwork” favors learning focusing on “how to deal effectively with real-life relationships and responsibilities”.2

  • 3 The standard study of Shakespeare’s school-sponsored reading finds that elite Latin authors such as (...)

2In this scene of an elder conversing with a youth obliged to listen to him, we have an allegory of the characteristic classroom crisis that shadows Shakespearean studies. A master-servant relation is present whenever one party is economically obliged to hold conversation with another, more powerful party. This aura of compulsion haunts teacher-student relations in American classrooms, I would argue, because the paradigm of intensive reading enshrined in print culture is at odds with a cyber-world where intensive reading is odd, even old-fashioned. Whereas bard-loving scholar-teachers think of their lectures as magisterial exegesis, students are likely to think of the same expert discourse as a painfully dilated version of Armado’s rhetoric-obsessed idiom. Shakespeare, though no Armado, nevertheless draws from the oratorical and rhetorical tradition taught in the Tudor schools. His language was acquired from texts that were daily translated and imitated during his own schooldays.3 Recognizing the historical remoteness of the bardic text and the altered reading patterns of contemporary students, editors ease students into the formal, often Latinate English of Tudor rhetorical culture through copious annotations. As the commercial rise of summaries and condensations attests, however, students who pick up an actual Shakespearean text struggle to comprehend plot and character by piecing together one phrase to its sequent. They move uncertainly from one character’s mystifying speech idiom to another character’s new and equally disconcerting vocabulary and syntax. In effect, the expert in Bardic language is a master, and the student, perplexed, frustrated, and bored, is the servant.

  • 4 Thomas Picketty, Capital in the 21st Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, Cambridge MA, Harvard Unive (...)

3The favored modes of young adult literacy are typically text messages, the cryptic communiques of Twitter, and a general avoidance of extended univocal discourse. We might venture to identify Moth as the incipient Tudor embodiment of these youthful communication modes. But a chasm in communication modalities is clear. When the generation raised on video and cryptic texting meets the remote lexical and rhetorical codes of Shakespearean signifying practices, a generation gap widens into a chasm. More precisely, the gap between expert scholar and linguistic novice presents an inequality of competence that parallels a recent, troubling inequality in terms of social class. As the economist Thomas Picketty has recently argued, an era of cross-class prosperity seems to be receding, creating fertile conditions for the reestablishment of patrimonial capitalism.4 The need to align Shakespeare with educational outcomes that enhance student intellectual development is critical. This essay proposes one such reconnection.

  • 5 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 3.3, trans. W.D. Ross. Available online at (...)
  • 6 Robert A. Wilson, and Lucia Foglia, “Embodied Cognition”, The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, (...)

4The curriculum proposed here does not owe its origin solely to recent interest in embodied cognition. Its roots run much deeper. Practical wisdom, Aristotle wrote, is “a first principle of action.” The process that leads to wise decision is deliberation. The object of deliberation, Aristotle explains, centers not on a contemplative res (idea) but on practical action to secure a desired end: “We deliberate not about ends but about means […] about the things that are in our power and can be done”5 Aristotle’s valuation of practical reasoning provides both academic precedence and intellectual prestige, but Aristotelian praxis has received a recent powerful boost from the field of embodied cognition. Reasoning detached from the body and the body’s range of agency tends to be a deracinated, high abstract process. In its place, “[…] embodied cognitive theorists favor a relational analysis that views the organism, the action it performs and the environment in which it performs it as inextricably linked.”6 In other words, student learning is activated by a plan that will be put into action. A student in the embodied (or pracademic) classroom unifies the operations of mind with a body of aspirations and desires. This synchronicity of mind and body, perception and practical action-taking, defines what I will call pracademic education.

5Of all plays in the Shakespeare canon, Love’s Labour’s Lost is most attuned to the acquisition of life skills by adolescents. This claim is supported by Berowne’s famous epiphany: “[…] where we are our learning likewise is” (4.3.314). Learning should focus on prudential choice and action in the face of life’s ongoing existential perplexities, a point that the inept academic students finally embrace. Elaborating Berowne’s cryptic call for situated learning, this essay asks: What issues involving practical skill affect students in their actual social environment (where “they are”)?

6This essay explores three dramatic situations in Love’s Labour’s Lost that open the door to a new curriculum focused more on life skills development and less on interpretive exactions from the original text. I begin with an ongoing existential crisis that holds the attention of many college students: college loans and the post-graduate consequences of carrying debt. A second area for practical reasoning takes up the vexed question of adolescent and young-adult sexual relations and the possibility of pregnancy. Love’s Labor’s Lost dramatizes unwed pregnancy in the figure of Jaquenetta, but offers no real accounting of its social and psychological costs. A third area for the new pracademic curriculum will consider principles of successful conversation, negatively modeled in the four courtiers’ deployment of conversation-retarding “taffeta phrases” and “silken terms precise” (5.2.407). The young men have glimpsed some practical notion of conversational success in Berowne’s new preference for plain style, “russet yeas” and “kersey noes” (5.2.414), but that moment of insight can be enriched and given actionable form when students stage experimental conversations, both deficient and successful, in the hypothetical classroom of the future.

7Traditional age college students are adolescents and thus really are the “tender juvenals”, a phrase that Armado uses for his amusement. The condition of inexperience and naiveté implicit in that phrase is the motive for the new curriculum outlined here. Financial competence is a critical life skill; mature decision making in sexual relations determines a young woman or man’s future quality of life; conversational effectiveness and rapport-building are crucial to social cohesiveness in societies structurally impaired by social fragmentation. A classroom which exercises and thus enhances the life skills of actual students in the Shakespearean classroom is the best next step in Shakespeare pedagogy; it is likely to engage interest and win gratitude from students bored by traditional pedagogy.

1. How To Talk To A Princess: A Seminar in Conversational Success

  • 7 Esther Thelen, “Time-scale dynamics in the development of an embodied cognition”, in Mind In Motion(...)

8Developmental psychology provides some guidance about how the new situated learning would work when applied to the socially remote, aristocratic court culture depicted by Love’s Labour’s Lost. Specifically, the field of embodied cognition as described by developmental psychologist Esther Thelen holds that thought and language would not occur without the presence of the body in space and time. The mind is actively engaged, Thelen argues, by events that have been recently experienced. This means that voluntary attention is conditional. Does the subject being studied excite the student’s interest? Is the subject taking a meaningful direction, whereby study will provide the student with a course of action and a desired outcome?7 Translating cognitive abstractions of the body in space and time to new curriculum, we may venture the bumbling overture of Dumaine, Longaville, and Navarre to the Princess and her entourage as an object lesson in conversational failure:

DUMAINE. Our letters, madam, show’d much more than jest.
LONGAVILLE. So did our looks.
ROSALINE. We did not quote them so.
KING. Now, at the latest minute of the hour
Grant us your loves.


The Princess has just received devastating news, so Navarre’s importuning is the epitome of conversational ineptitude. His use of the imperative form “Grant us your loves” reveals his oblivion to the trauma just suffered. He discovers an unresponsive conversational partner: “I understand you not. My griefs are doubled” (5.2.753)

  • 8 Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson, Politeness: Some Universals in language usage, Cambridge MA, C (...)

9As social discourse theorists Brown and Levinson explained in their seminal study, Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage: “Positive-politeness utterances are used as a kind of metaphorical extension of intimacy, to imply common ground or sharing of wants to a limited extent.”8 In other words, the speaker is likely to establish relations if the speaker focuses on discerning the other party’s emotional state. Brown and Levinson borrow the metaphor of “saving face” to describe how successful conversation recognizes the interlocutor’s feelings as legitimate. In terms of effective conversational technique, this recognition requires the speaker to suspend her or his own emotional needs. The principle can be applied retrospectively to Love’s Labour’s Lost scene of conversational ineptitude. Navarre would have to defer his own emotional impulses and await a better time for romantic overtures. What students in a traditional classroom learn from this scene is that self-absorption of the impetuous speaker leads to dialogic disconnection. But such a loss in the comedy is a gain for embodied learning. In a twenty-first-century classroom attuned to the student’s personal experience, the teacher is free to invite student deliberation no longer tied to textual interpretation: What rules for conversational success, deduced from individual experience, can students formulate from the failure of conversation in Shakespeare’s court comedy?

10As I noted in reference to Brown and Levinson, effective conversational exchange is dependent on “face preserving” behaviors. Accordingly, one rule for conversational success that students could try out in real time experiments would center on this principle. What are likely to be the outcomes of a conversation where the speaker has signaled his or her good will at the start of the conversation? A second class session on effective conversation might consider linguistic economy. The number of words spoken by one party – few and precise, many and diffuse – represent a test of the listening party’s receptivity. In an enactment of this principle of length, students might construct asymmetrical conversations, in which one party talks far more frequently than the other. The results would amount to training in conversational success, with empirical demonstrations of what might be called “conversational equality” provided by the classroom experiments.

  • 9 Katherine R. Larson, “Conversational Games and the Articulation of Desire in Shakespeare’s Love’s L (...)

11If this comedy is studied in the new historicist approach, with its characteristic theorizations about power and individuality, then students could consider Katherine Larson’s sensible but traditionally academic claim that “conversational games […] represented politically significant examples of language use.”9 In this academic approach, however, the anachronism of middle-class students learning about courtly dialogue in the sixteenth century appears to reconstruct the Armado-Moth divide noted earlier in this essay. In a pracademic approach to effective conversation, classroom simulations of failed conversation provide immediate training in an activity that is very much “where students are” as members of a social cohort. Conversational failure, first dramatized in the Shakespearean comedy, would fuel class-devised protocols for conversation in the high-stakes environment of their emerging maturity.

2. Financial Competence: 100,000 Crowns and Student Debt Crisis

12Navarre’s court finds it proposed academic study plans disrupted by financial controversy. The Princess carries a letter from her father that resurrects a complex history of indebtedness and partially repaid loans. The contending narratives of loans paid or unpaid is further complicated by the fact that these financial transactions took place between the fathers of the two young people, as Navarre reveals in referring to money “Disbursed by my father” (2.1.130). Both characters reflect a transhistorical problem for adolescents seeking financial competence: rules for receiving and repaying loans are not formulated by the adolescents, but by the adults, who undertook the terms of the financial transaction. Like high-school students casting about for ways to finance costly college tuition, Shakespeare’s royal youths are expected to discuss money matters, but without the first-hand experience or training in financial documentation and negotiation. The distant Shakespearean scene provides a keen opportunity for pracademic exploration of financial competence in 2016.

13The Princess at least understands that her father’s financial advisers have recorded revenues and expenditures and she smartly resorts to the language of receipt: “You do the king my father much wrong, and wrong the reputation of your name / In so unseeming to confess receipt / Of that which so faithfully hath been paid” (2.1.153-154). Navarre protests that the loan due his father remains unpaid. The Princess reveals financial competency born of the argument; she invokes the legal proof of “acquittances,” documents that recorded the repayment: “We arrest your word. Boyet you can produce acquittances / For such a sum from special offers / Of Charles his father” (2.1.159-162).

14The current academy has recognized similar conditions for financial tension and conflict. The University of South Florida justifies its first-year course on the grounds that anxieties over financial well-being deserve a place in the curriculum: “The pre-course survey allows staff to gauge students’ learning as well as their financial attitudes and behaviors. For example, Financial Literacy 101 revealed that over half of all first-year students were worried about the debt they would incur and how it would affect their choices after college.”10

15In Shakespeare’s comedy of contending royal entourages, the argument can be resolved by financial professionals (“special officers,” 2.1.160). It is unlikely that current students will find a mimetic reflection of their personal situations in these royals arguing over money. Instead, in ironic contrast to assistance from royal ministers, many students will wonder how to extricate themselves from college-day debts that darken their post-graduation horizon. To understand how the dispute in Love’s Labour’s Lost opens a pracademic door to student financial competence in a commercial environment without special officers, let’s consider one American student loan company, Sallie Mae, and its meteoric increase in profits from college loans:

  • 11 Alan Collinge, The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in US History and How We Can Fight B (...)

Albert Lord, chief executive officer of Sallie Mae, the most dominant student loan company in the United States, reported to stakeholders in 2003 that the company’s record profits were attributable to penalties and fees collected from defaulted loans. Sallie Mae’s fee income increased by 228% (from $280 million to $920 million) between 2000 and 2005, while its managed loan portfolio increased by only 82 percent (from $67 billion to $122 billion) during the same period.11

This brief quotation supplies more than enough material to fashion a life skills workshop on college loans and their unspoken dangers. Consider, for example, that the customary and expected source of revenue − interest collected for outstanding loans − is a secondary source of company profit. Far more lucrative, and therefore concerning, is the fact that “record profits” were made from “penalties and fees collected from defaulted loans.” The questions that students would face in a student debt workshop would certainly consider the disastrous phenomenon of default. Such a workshop might ask students to recreate the material conditions in which the inexperienced and thus insecure student (or parent) signed the promissory papers. Was this contractual signature or consent given in a physical office, with a college loan officer providing guidance? Was the loan formally contracted through the specious convenience of an online account, with little or no scrutiny of the “fine print” that spells out terms and penalties?

16The workshop might revisit a classroom version of drama by asking students to perform a scene in which the Sallie Mae official greets the prospective borrower, explains some terms of the contract, and then urges a signature. The enactment of this primal financial scene might include some surprises. According to a report by the journal Politico, some private companies in the US offer “unlimited loan amounts to eligible borrowers”.12 But given an interest rate as high as 7%, plus an origination fee of 4%, the loan company representative, congenial in manner, is ominously generous. Unlimited loan amounts may mean that college graduates are burdened with debt even as senior citizens, and that some loan agencies attempt to garnish the income of senior citizens who have yet to pay off their loans. The classroom staging of an interview between adult loan agent and adolescent borrower would dramatize both the necessity for practical knowledge in matters of finance and the pitfalls for those who breeze past contractual language of loans.

  • 13 J.P. Hunter & M. Csikszentmihalyi, “The positive psychology of interested adolescents,” Journal of (...)

17Other questions would fuel further practical thinking and decision-making. Have students scrutinized the terms of their present and future loans, to determine whether forgiveness and forbearance are part of their contracts? Have students considering applying for further loans examined the default rates of the issuing agency? Have they shopped around, to compare loan offers of the federal government as distinct from private lenders, identifying those private lenders that have a history of complaints?13

3. A Plan for Jaquenetta: Teen Age Pregnancy and Student Problem-Solving

  • 14 Ever since C.L. Barber’s Shakespeare’s Festive Comedies, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 195 (...)

18The issue of unplanned pregnancy is usually confined to so-called Health classes, the province of high-school guidance programs. These programs are sandwiched between academic studies, the assumption being that academic study involves intellectual rigor, whereas life skill training involves a lower order function of information-sharing. This very limited programmatic effort in what may be termed “sexual education” offers teachers of Love’s Labour’s Lost a rich opportunity. Rather than pass over Jaquenetta’s hardly festive situation,14 teachers could explore the intersection of Shakespeare’s comedy and the anxious matter of sexual decision-making that adolescents often face alone.

19A pracademic classroom session might begin where Love’s Labour’s Lost begins by considering the dynamics of male sexual adventurism. Costard is a proud sexual adventurer, proclaiming that he “suffers for the truth” because he acted according to biological imperatives: “Jaquenetta is a true girl” (1.1.298-299). Costard’s reference to “affliction” represents physical gratification disguised as biblically-inflected suffering. As a double-entendre, it refers to the imprisonment he will briefly endure, but it refers as well to the mechanics of sexual intercourse. The male member enters or afflicts the female body and thus achieves “prosperity.” Costard’s joke echoes the aristocrats’ hope for fame that will carry their name in the future (1.1.1-7), but both dramatizations of male aspiration obscure Jaquenetta’s situation and aspirations.

20A classroom study of life skills relating to sexual self-management might begin with these sobering statistics offered by the Center for Disease Control:

In 2010, teen pregnancy and childbirth accounted for at least $9.4 billion in costs to U.S. taxpayers for increased health care and foster care, increased incarceration rates among children of teen parents, and lost tax revenue because of lower educational attainment and income among teen mothers.15

21The statistics adumbrate a set of negative consequences that only effective planning and counseling might mitigate. Taxpayers have to pay for medical care of the mother-to-be and child, though this subsidy may not foreclose the birthmother’s wrenching decision to place her child into foster care. As distinct from Costard’s smug statement about a “true girl,” the mother abdicates her role as natural protector of the child. As if these consequences were not bad enough, the teen mother’s future as a wage-earner is compromised, if the equation of education and income holds true. The negative consequences begin with the teen girl’s initial trauma of lost independence, but continue into an indefinite future.

  • 16 An exhilarating exception to the marginalization of actual (transhistorical) social crises in Shake (...)

22What are students sitting in a classroom supposed to do about this perennial crisis? A classroom workshop could explore three linkages between Jaquenetta and current sociological theory. Limited education, vulnerability to male social control, and low-status employment experiences are all conducive to poor decision-making. Before presenting the practical and civic curriculum for this topic, I wish to relate Shakespeare’s representation of the pregnant Jaquenetta to the transhistorical reality of teen pregnancy in order to establish parallels between text and a social crisis in contemporary life.16

23Jaquenetta’s lack of education is made explicit in Act 4, Scene 3 when she enters the King’s presence bearing a letter that her illiteracy prevents her from reading. Nevertheless, hopeful of reward, she is eager to report possible treason: “I beseech your grace, let the letter be read / Our person misdoubts it; twas treason, he said” (4.3.191-192). Jaquenetta’s low educational attainment places her in the company of many adolescent females in 2016, but the concurrence of illiteracy and her pregnancy deepens the historical parallel.

24A clinical study of teen pregnancy in five developed countries, published in 2005, tells Jaquenetta’s story:

  • 17 Susheela Singh, Jacqueline E. Darroch, Jennifer J. Frost, “Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Adolescen (...)

In Great Britain, differences by level of educational attainment are even larger: Forty-nine percent of 20-24 year olds with low levels of educational attainment used a method at first intercourse, compared with 80% of those with high levels of attainment.17

In a classroom confronting these findings, students could be asked to write civic-oriented interventions, directed not only at the forty-nine percent of peers with “low levels” of education, but at the twenty percent of at-risk peers whose higher education attainment does not absent them from sexual risk.

  • 18 Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: psychoanalysis, feminism, and the problem of domination, New Y (...)

25A second opportunity for building awareness of material conditions that lead to unplanned teen pregnancy involves gendered codes of power, as illustrated in Armado’s letter to the King: “For Jaquenetta (so is the weaker vessel called) which I apprehended with the foresaid swain, I keep her as a vessel of thy law’s fury, and shall, at the least of thy sweet notice, bring her to trial” (1.1.267-271). Armado’s eagerness to please the King by persecuting a marginalized female servant brings us into current psychological discourses on master-slave relation. In The Bonds of Love, psychologist and social theorist Jessica Benjamin explains that elegance and charm are key manipulative strategies whereby “the master’s rational calculating, even instrumentalizing attitude […] excites submission”.18 Students alert to the power-play inherent in sexual relations are better prepared to identify this dynamic in their own experiences.

  • 19 The editor of the Oxford edition glosses “dey-woman” as a domestic servant whose presence on royal (...)

26A third life skills project relating to unplanned pregnancy would take up the question of low-status employment. Jaquenetta must reside in the royal park, as a kind of servant on call, since she is a “dey-woman” (1.2.125).19 Issues of practical awareness and self-examination come to the fore. Are students who work long hours in low-wage jobs putting themselves more at risk? Does this low-status employment work differentially, so that students working longer part-time jobs are more vulnerable to the false security of casual sexual encounters?

  • 20 Barbara Rogoff, Apprenticeship in Thinking, New York, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 8.

27Shakespeare scholars have expert training in textual interpretation, not in adolescent counseling. Yet the kind of practical and personal knowledge that students gain from situated study is not beyond the professional competence of scholars who understand Love’s Labour’s Lost and its advocacy of learning “where we are”. The teacher-scholar would relinquish the role of expert for a new role as a “participant” in and “guide” to real-life issues as described in Apprenticeship in Thinking.20


28This essay has argued that interpretation of a remote literary text has lost its appeal for many college-age students. Since this is a painful perception, it is often expressed in the privacy of personal conversation. But practitioners in the field can also be candid about a faded pedagogy of disembodied interpretation and excited by innovative pedagogy, as in this recent interview with American Shakespeare scholar Alexa Huang:

In the twenty-first century, Shakespeare studies is a tent large enough to help transform the humanities, and a great deal of outreach work including digital humanities has come out of the field. There is a lot of positive vibe and intellectual energy. The field is more and more innovative, even though it has the baggage of being one of the most canonical fields of study.21

Huang identifies an existential movement of individuals (“positive vibe”) as the source of innovation, but this finding leaves out the static force of institutional traditions and methodologies that would constrain such innovation. Holofernes, the schoolmaster in Love’s Labour’s Lost, boasts of his “[…] ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions” (4.2.66), but, as the epitome of the tradition-bound academic, he is rudely dismissed by his would-be students (“Jud-as, away!” [5.2.622]). If teachers of Love’s Labour’s Lost are to be emboldened to innovate, they would need justification from the field of educational theory, particularly if this justification spells out the necessary conditions for student motivation and perseverance in educational tasks.

  • 22 Sarah M. Fine, “‘a slow revolution’: Toward A Theory of Intellectual Playfulness in High School Cla (...)
  • 23 Walter Doyle, “Situated Practice: A Reflection on Person-Centered Classroom Management”, Theory Int (...)
  • 24 Carol Dwek, Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, Philadelphia, PA (...)
  • 25 Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passeron, Reproduction in Education, Culture, and Society, Californ (...)

29A recent study by Sarah Fine offers such theoretical justification for innovation. Instead of “[…] muscling students toward mastery by tightly controlling the learning process”, Fine asks educators to “imagine classrooms and schools where students were not only doing rigorous work but also being pleasurably engaged.”22 This plea for responsiveness to student interests is not new. Writing in 2009, educational theorist Walter Doyle called for “situated practice” as the basis for devising any curriculum. For Doyle, student interest is the generative center of a successful classroom and the teacher seeks it assiduously; he or she should “recruit, invite, persuade or convince the students” to take part in the learning process.23 The other half of the educational scene is the student, whose psychological disposition to learn or not is determined not only by the teacher’s behavior but by a curriculum which offers some promise of personal fulfillment. Educational psychologist Carol Dwek’s research into student-centered pedagogy suggests a further benefit for translating a Shakespeare play into contemporaneous structures of student experience. Students who believe that their “intelligence is a malleable quality”, Dwek writes, are eager to “take advantage of the skill-improvement opportunities that come their way.”24 Finally, there is Pierre Bourdieu’s historically resonant critique of teacher-centered education. Education is most frequently a form of violence, Bourdieu argued, because an arbitrary subject is imposed by an arbitrary force.25 The solution to curricular imposition of Shakespeare as classroom subject would be an innovative curriculum that provides identifiable social problems in the here and now and stimulates students’ heuristic and deliberative powers.

30Most Shakespeareans are unfamiliar with a curriculum that gives priority to life skills learning. As constituted by twentieth-century hermeneutics and the professionalization of literary scholarship, Shakespeare studies bear the markings of its origin: expert knowledge, heuristic protocols applied to literary texts, archival research. The entity known as Shakespeare takes one form in the academic institutions where he is studied under the aegis of scholarship. By contrast, the popular dramatist excited his audiences with scenes of deliberation, decision-making, and prognostic assessment, the intellectual equivalent of what philosophy terms embodied cognition. The pracademic approach described in this essay does not do away with the Shakespearean text. According to individual preference, the teacher transfers some or many scenes of deliberation from the print confines of the original text to the classroom’s transhistorical encounter with these issues in the here and now. The three life skills discussed here − financial competence as the learning of a specialized language, sexual behavior guided by critical self-awareness, conversational effectiveness explored in trial and error exercises − all activate in the classroom’s present the prudential reasoning that Shakespeare activated historically in the spectacle of royal youth finding their way toward adulthood. Where traditional pedagogy makes the ungainly request that young people read an arcane, Armado-like language from the 1590s, pracademic Shakespeare selects issues for re-embodiment and renegotiation in the present, thereby engaging young learners’ interest and commitment. Pracademic Shakespeare may be the path to a new epoch in humanist education.

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1 William Shakespeare, Love’s Labor’s Lost, John Arthos, ed., New York, Penguin Books, 1965. Future references are to this edition.

2 A. M. Sidorkin, “In the Event of Learning: Alienation and Participative Thinking in Education”, Educational Theory 54.3, 2004, 251-262, p. 263.

3 The standard study of Shakespeare’s school-sponsored reading finds that elite Latin authors such as Virgil and Cicero formed the core of reading and translation exercises. See T.W. Baldwin, Shakespeare’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke, 2 vol., Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1944.

4 Thomas Picketty, Capital in the 21st Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 2014.

5 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 3.3, trans. W.D. Ross. Available online at Accessed 15 November 2015.

6 Robert A. Wilson, and Lucia Foglia, “Embodied Cognition”, The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Palo Alto, Stanford University Press, 2001: Accessed 30 November 2015. Another study of embodied cognition that introduces this emerging field is Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain Body and World Together Again, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2012.

7 Esther Thelen, “Time-scale dynamics in the development of an embodied cognition”, in Mind In Motion, ed. R. Port and T. van Gelder, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1987, p. 69-100.

8 Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson, Politeness: Some Universals in language usage, Cambridge MA, Cambridge University Press, 1987, p. 103.

9 Katherine R. Larson, “Conversational Games and the Articulation of Desire in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory”, English Literary Renaissance 40, Spring 2010, 165-190, p. 167. For an alternative to the critical premise that conversation was the social preserve of the Tudor official class, see Daniel Bender, “Native Pastoral in the English Renaissance: The 1549 Petition and Kett’s Rebellion” in Conversational Exchanges in Early Modern England, ed. Kristen Abbott Bennett, London, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2015, p. 12-30.

10 Accessed 05 March 2016.

11 Alan Collinge, The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in US History and How We Can Fight Back, Beacon Press, 2009, p. 5. A simple guide written in the self-help genre and useful to the pracademic classroom is Take Control of Your Future: A Guide to Managing Your Student Debt: Accessed 25 February 2015.

12 Accessed 30 November 2015. The same report cites the caution of a consumer-oriented banker speaking on behalf of college students: “It’s sinister to see the government throw money at people with no clue if they can pay it back”.

13 J.P. Hunter & M. Csikszentmihalyi, “The positive psychology of interested adolescents,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 72.1, 2003, 27-35, p. 28. Of the early modern period’s understanding of adolescent learning aptitudes the authors note: “The nasty and brutish existence of most youth left little thought to notions of ‘optimal development’ or even ‘development’ for that matter. For these people, survival was the watchword” (p. 27).

14 Ever since C.L. Barber’s Shakespeare’s Festive Comedies, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1959, scholars attribute “festive” qualities to this comedy by restricting the dramatis personae to the royals. Jaquenetta, Costard, Moth, and the plebeians Tom and Joan are clearly not included in Barber’s anthropologically-encoded reading of joyous societal restoration. For a recent reading that continues the festive thesis by limiting analysis to the royals, see Delphine Lemonnier-Texier, “‘To teach a teacher ill beseemeth me’ (ii.i.107): The Dynamics of Teaching and Learning in Love’s Labour’s Lost”, Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare [Online], 32 | 2015, Accessed 30 November 2015.

15 Accessed 1 December 2015.

16 An exhilarating exception to the marginalization of actual (transhistorical) social crises in Shakespeare studies is Dorothea Kehler’s “Jaquenetta’s Baby’s Father: Recovering Paternity in Love’s Labour’s Lost”, in Love’s Labour’s Lost: Critical Essays, ed. Felicia Hardison Londre, London, Routledge, 2001, p. 305-312. In one sentence, Kehler describes the pracademic challenge of unplanned pregnancy and the scholarly community’s nervous circumvention of this real life issue: “Disturbing even now, judging from its total absence from the criticism, is the possibility that Jaquenetta herself does not know who the father is – a reminder that paternity may not be recoverable” (p. 311).

17 Susheela Singh, Jacqueline E. Darroch, Jennifer J. Frost, “Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Adolescent Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Behaviour: The Case of Five Developed Countries”, Family Planning Perspectives 33.5, 2005, 251-258, p. 255.

18 Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: psychoanalysis, feminism, and the problem of domination, New York, Pantheon Books, 1988, p.26.

19 The editor of the Oxford edition glosses “dey-woman” as a domestic servant whose presence on royal premises had to be approved, thus ensuring her lack of employment mobility. See Love’s Labour’s Lost, ed. G.R. Hibbard, Oxford, Clarendon Press, p. 27.

20 Barbara Rogoff, Apprenticeship in Thinking, New York, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 8.

21 “An Interview with Alexa Huang”: Accessed 15 February 2016.

22 Sarah M. Fine, “‘a slow revolution’: Toward A Theory of Intellectual Playfulness in High School Classrooms”, Harvard Educational Review 84.1, 2014, 1-23, p. 22.

23 Walter Doyle, “Situated Practice: A Reflection on Person-Centered Classroom Management”, Theory Into Practice 48.2, Spring 2009, 156-159, p. 159. The editor’s introduction to this issue adds that a “person-centered” classroom “includes rigorous expectations” but also “pointed efforts to formulate a deeper connection between students and academic content.” Joan T.W. Walker, “This Issue: A Person-Centered Approach to Classroom Management,” Theory into Practice 48.2, Spring 2009, 95-98, p. 95.

24 Carol Dwek, Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, Philadelphia, PA, Psychology Press, 2000, p. 26.

25 Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passeron, Reproduction in Education, Culture, and Society, California, Sage Publications, 1990.

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Daniel Bender, « Appertaining to thy young days”: The End of the Academe in Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Curriculum for the Future », Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare [En ligne], 34 | 2016, mis en ligne le 10 mars 2016, consulté le 06 juillet 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Daniel Bender

Pace University USA

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