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Friday
Jul052019

Shakespeare Saved My  Life

Opening Laura Bates Shakespeare Saved my Life resulted in setting aside my mystery novel and sacrificing hours of sleep, an unexpected happening. 

Dr. Bates, an English professor at the University of Indiana recounts her experience of teaching Shakespearian plays to prisoners in a “supermax” penitentiary in Indiana.  Approval for her project required a huge effort to overcome derision, dismissal, fear, and disbelief despite her excellent success in teaching college courses in other Indiana prisons.  She describes the metamorphosis of inmates enrolled in the program and the appalling conditions in which she met with a group of eight inmates.

They attended class enclosed in windowless segregated cells and knelt on the floor to see through the unlocked waist high openings in their cell doors while Dr. Bates sat on a chair in the corridor. They completed weekly assignments that challenged their abilities and their thought processes.

The following quote (p. 253) is from an account co-written by one of the convicts, an uneducated man who will spend the remainder of his life in jail because he, at age seventeen, committed murder. Studying   Shakespeare changed his life.

Richard the Second is our launching pad that brings convicts back to normalcy. Then we break the curse that they are defined by their deeds with Henry the Fourth.  After that we build in them the potential for greatness with Henry the Fifth. In Henry the Sixth, we teach them to keep that potential grounded in realistic options. And with Richard the Third, we show them that it is essential that they follow their intrinsic motivation. Richard the Third is the consequence of not being rewarded as one thinks he should be.  He is the consequence of extrinsic motivation.  We do not live in fantasy worlds, and adversity will always exist, especially when one has a history such as ours, but when we are intrinsically driven, as Henry the Eighth is, the adversities do not have breaking power!”

I found myself lamenting the quality of my education in Shakespearian plays and seriously contemplating the project of studying Shakespeare.

-Sr. Patricia McKeon, csj

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