To Serve or Not to Serve

Caught in the Act: Juveniles Sentenced to Shakespeare
(Louise Kennedy, Boston Globe)

Talk about a catchy title, at least for someone with my interests.

I’ve written before about literature-based alternative sentencing programs, specifically in reference to the Massachusetts-based Changing Lives Through Literature program. The program in Kennedy’s article, Shakespeare in the Courts, builds on a similar philosophy.

Shakespeare in the Courts allows juvenile offenders to serve their time by participating in intensive training, rehearsal, and performance of a Shakespearean play, under the guidance of expert actors, directors, and educators from Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass.

According to education director Kevin Coleman, “This does not fix them. […] “Do they get back in trouble? Yes, they do. But maybe less often and maybe not as deep. This extreme experience that they’re having starts to change them.’’

Kennedy goes on to describe an exchange during rehearsal:

The exchanges were typical of the adults’ approach: a bit of humor, some no-nonsense toughness, and plenty of support. Also typical was the way O’Connor later helped Monet learn some lines.

“You’re imagining the guy lighting the fuse on a cannon,’’ O’Connor told her. “ ‘The nimble English gunner with linstock the devilish cannon touches.’ Boom! We’ll have a big explosion there. ‘And then goes all before them.’ You’re saying, ‘Please imagine that we’re better than we are.’ ’’

Monet nodded and tried the line again. At “the devilish cannon touches,’’ she dipped her sword to light the fuse. And there she was, for a moment, a Shakespearean actor on a renowned Shakespearean stage.

So is Shakespeare the key?

As much as I love Shakespeare, I have to say no.

True, Shakespeare’s language is challenging to read and speak: English has changed, and the rhythms of iambic pentameter feel foreign compared to free verse. What is more, Shakespeare’s characters are complex and often opaque. But as the interviewees’ comments imply,  is seems that 1) being expected to do something difficult  and 2) receiving the support and encouragement to do it are the primary forces behind any positive change that occurred.

As much as I love Shakespeare’s plays, Shakespeare the man is dead, and it is living humans who have the ability to influence other living humans through relationship and investment in each others’ lives.

That being said, a little Julius Caesar on the side doesn’t hurt…

Read more about Shakespeare in the Courts.
The program was also recently featured on Stephen Colbert.


One Response to To Serve or Not to Serve

  1. If only more people would read this.

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