Bounty of the Bard: The Profit of Minor Insights

As many of my students know, I am a self-professed Shakespeare obsessive. His writing – plays and sonnets – might first be introduced in middle or high school as seemingly distant, foreignly-rendered text, but the reality of each line teems with vivid, living and immediate human experience. This experience isn’t something apart from what you, the student, or I, the instructor, might be familiar with – somewhere, in any given line from any work of Shakespeare’s – from the popularly known to the obscure – contains an articulation of every complex emotion that can be experienced: all one needs to do is be paying attention.

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How is this relevant to education practice, or test prep, you might ask? In a larger sense, our shared work toward test prep mastery is centered on self-knowledge and improvement – we strategize around our strength and perceived weaknesses to build a more confident, fully-rendered you (and the human care and reflection built throughout Shakespeare can be a key tenet of that process). 

Let’s look at this in detail: Act I, Scene I of the comedy Taming of the Shrew:

No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en.
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.

  Cush Jumbo and Janet McTeer in Phylida Lloyd’s 2016 Production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (   Photo courtesy of the Public Theater   )

Cush Jumbo and Janet McTeer in Phylida Lloyd’s 2016 Production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (Photo courtesy of the Public Theater)

In the very earliest moments of the play, Tranio (the servant of a secondary character, someone to whom, in the larger scheme of narrative, we might pay little to no attention) delivers an invaluable, sharp insight of empowerment. Enjoyment, and sincere investment, is key to effective growth in any capacity – particularly academic. It’s all about finding your point of entry. Perhaps the content is key, and you readily invest in any fictional work; perhaps you’re of a puzzle-breaking mind, and analyzing and breaking the patterns of the test is your tactic of approach; or perhaps, simply, your drive to put in the work is to finish as soon as possible. Success is personal, and honest-to-goodness happiness is key.

And maybe there’s a lesson to be taken not only from the text, but also from the fashion of its use. A kernel of profundity placed within the early lines of a minor character – easy to overlook, and even easier to not give credence to when notice is taken. Shakespeare imbues every character with expansive humanity, whether central or tertiary. There is human use to this – in the attention we pay to people of all stripes who enter within our narrative – and certainly educational use, too. 

There is innate value in detail-oriented attention, and by taking in every aspect of how value is delivered to us, in Shakespeare, in life, and in the testing room, build a stronger, more comprehensive understanding as we move forward. A growing profit, indeed.