Dramatis Personae

Many-Headed Multitude
[+/-] academic blogs
[+/-] other blogs we like

Our Ongoing Series

In Sad Conference
... live reports from the field
[+/-] RSA 2008
[+/-] SAA 2008
[+/-] MLA 2007
[+/-] SAA 2007
[+/-] RSA 2007
[+/-] MLA 2006
[+/-] SAA 2006
[+/-] RSA 2006

Read On This Book
... our occasional reading group
About the reading group
[+/-] Inkhorn reads the Anatomy [+/-] FS Boas, University Drama [+/-] D. Shuger, Political Theologies

The Motto Thus
... our silly woodcut caption contest
[+/-] Past Contests

More Foolery Yet
... which we write periodically
[+/-] Holzknecht Redivivus
[+/-] EEBOnics
[+/-] Notes and Queries

Sunday, December 09, 2007


As befits a bleak early December, I’ve been digging through the archives examining early modern burial records. Here are some endings to seventeenth-century lives.

George Soveraigne, an owld man, a bagpipe player of no certayne dwellinge, dyed at Ware End and was buried the viijth of Maye

One whose name wee knowe nott beinge founde dead in the feilds was buryed the xxith daye of Maye. 1615

Henrye Shambrooke, an able yonge man of the Heath, by the prick of a thorne festering died

George Soveraigne and co. have got me thinking about endings, more generally. Last words. Not necessarily of the morbid kind: it’s the last week of term, and classes are finishing. My final Shakespeare is on Thursday: I’ve just been doing Taming of the Shrew with a class in which five of the 12 students are, coincidentally, called Kate. There is also a Kerry and a Kayleigh. But no Tranio.

One of the endings I’ve been wrestling with is pedagogic: I realised, suddenly, a few weeks ago, that I don’t know how to finish a class. What do you do? ‘You’ve been wonderful – thank you and goodnight’? Pull all the meandering discussion into a taut little pellet of provocation? Set up next week? Walk from the room, wordlessly, dropping sheaves of notes, page by page, to the floor? Lectures are fine: (semi) scripted, so you can build in a little crescendo. Not that I want my undergrads to leave the classroom punching the air with delight. But at present my seminars just dribble out, like jokes without a punchline. Like Gordon Brown. Like England.

So this is my question to you: how do you finish a class? What do you do? Or, if you’re on the receiving end of this pedagogic aposiopesis (look it up), what floats your boat?

  • At 12/09/2007 01:49:00 PM, Blogger moria wrote…

    Follow George Soveraigne's lead and get yourself some pipes.

    An anthropologist professor I admired a great deal ended one of our upper-level undergrad seminars, a class on theories of the state, with a call to arms. She's something of a revolutionary, and her final note of the semester was to recruit us to the revolution. She is charismatic enough, and devilishly smart on top of it, to have made this work. Even the Econ-major meathead was flushed with inspiration.

    I'm not sure Shrew would lend itself quite so well to such an act. Though you could try. With so many Kates, you never know.


  • At 12/09/2007 02:44:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Isn't it every true-born Englishwoman's God-given right to be named Kate?


  • At 12/09/2007 04:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    If the class is small (less than 30), I'll invite them to my house during or immediately before finals week for a wrap up discussion and some food and coffee.

    It's a good environment for students to talk about things that might otherwise get laughed out of the classroom: whether they liked the language of such and such a passage, which was their favorite murder pamphlet, and so on.


  • At 12/09/2007 05:01:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    I've posted on this before, but I do like me a peroration at the end of term.

    These are easier, of course, in a larger class, for the reasons you note. In my (in the end quite small) Milton seminar I did a much more casual wrap up, just summarizing the changing fortunes of JM's reputation over the past few centuries, and then, in a self-consciously cheesy way, reminded my students about the Areopagitican image of reassembling the body of truth--I've got the foot of Truth right here, but you've got the shoulder blade--and then made a shooing gesture: "So, get out of here! Go take some more classes! Reassemble Truth!"

    Well. At least it amuses me.


  • At 12/10/2007 06:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Unless I experienenced some 90+X perecent of them as really dreadful (which, as far as I can remember, up to now was the case only once):

    My standard procedure is as follows:

    1. Try to sum up what we did, what we might be sure we found out, and what are the questions yet open which fascinate me most, and sometimes also what I had expected the seminar to be and what it turned out to be.

    2. A general discussion on all of the above plus any other points which might have remained both open and interesting to anybody at that time.

    3. Questions on what in the view of the students was o.k. in the seminar, and what I should perhaps change in future seminars, and what I should definitely change in future seminars, and discussions of the answers. (And, yes: I tell them beforehand that I can change nothing about the most standard objection to my teaching [i.e.: "please do try to talk more slowly"] and that I won't change anything about the two other extremely frequent objections [i.e.: "give students more guidance, so that they can find out the one and only correct way to deal with the topics assigned to them" and "do assign less stuff to read"]; and, yes: I do discuss my reasons not to change my behaviour there with them.)

    4. Depending on the time of the day and my mood: I bring sweets and/or peanuts and/or soft drinks and/or wine and/or spirits themed with the subject of the course (Laphroaig is suitable for more subjects that I'd have guessed some years ago ...). And then we talk in some a bit more relaxed manner.

    5. In summer inviting them to a beergarden or something like that can be a good alternative to number 4 (if the topic of the seminar was suitable for a beergarden).


  • At 12/10/2007 12:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    I suck at this. Some of my colleagues sing or bake cookies. I'm too British to do that. Instead, I spend all evening trying to think of a flashy, pun-filled final sentence, but at this time of year the brain is too dead, so I just draw to a close, grunt, and say 'well, that's it, have a good christmas'. HOWEVER despite the absence of fireworks at the end of my courses, I retain popularity by the simple method of letting the students go home early. They love this.


  • At 12/10/2007 03:10:00 PM, Blogger Pamphilia wrote…

    I give them food, show a few Shakespeare clips (McKellen in R3; 'Throne of Blood') and then launch into a full-blown but short peroration, fully expecting applause. But it's not traditional to applaud here, so I am inevitably left cleaning up plates and forks and feeling sorry for myself.


  • At 12/10/2007 04:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    We finished 2 of my classes by listening to "Act 5," the "This American Life" episode on prison performances of Hamlet. My students really enjoyed it. Reminds them that some people actually want to think about Shakespeare for purposes other than a course requirement, and gives them a different kind of performance to think about.


  • At 12/10/2007 05:00:00 PM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    whatever I do at the end of classes, I am suddenly quite grateful to be living in a time and place in which I can cross "the prick of a thorne" off my list of possible causes of death.

    (He says as a huge sack of thornes sways ominously from a fraying rope far above his head.)


  • At 12/10/2007 07:47:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Especially, Greenwit, because you are hardly an "able young man of the Heath"--a prick of a thorn would kill you even faster than it killed the hearty Shambrooke.


 Scribble some marginalia

<< Main