The Crowd Went Wilde

My theater class has been reading The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, this week.

I've been kind of discouraged, because this play is hiLARious, but they don't laugh at ANYthing. Maybe it's because the play is British, and British people have a different sense of humor. Maybe it's because the play was written in the 1800s, and they can't relate. Maybe it's because they've been Jim Carreyatized, and the only things they find funny are toilet jokes and people talking out of their butts.

At first I didn't say anything, but then couldn't take it anymore. "Can you not see how this is funny?" I railed after this line:

[The Canon] Chasuble: ... My sermon on the meaning of the manna in the wilderness can be adapted to almost any occasion, joyful, or, as in the present case, distressing. [All sigh.] I have preached it at harvest celebrations, christenings, confirmations, on days of humiliation and festal days. The last time I delivered it was in the Cathedral, as a charity sermon on behalf of the Society for the Prevention of Discontent among the Upper Orders.

"There is an economic depression in England, the lower classes are starving, and the PASTOR has been preaching at a CLUB for RICH PEOPLE who are worried that they MIGHT start to feel badly! How is that NOT funny to you?"

The light dawned, they began to chuckle, and I saw that it wasn't that their senses of humor are underdeveloped; their reading comprehension skills are.

At first I had to explain a LOT of passages to them, but they began to spend more time trying to understand for themselves, and today, as we read Act III, I didn't have to explain anything, and they were laughing themselves into a frenzy.

I do love it when I can pinpoint an exact moment in time when I can see that my kids have put on their thinking caps, that they've opened their minds to the possibility that this isn't busywork, and when they begin to appreciate the work of a master.

I think my proudest moment today was when one kid said, totally unprompted, "Oscar Wilde was a genius!"

It's what I've been saying all along, but I was so happy that they were actually ENJOYING the play that I didn't even have the urge to say, "I TOLD you so!"


Cindy said...

I always do the cryptoquote in my local paper, and the other day it was this one from Oscar Wilde: "My business is so boring. I much prefer everyone else's."

I later found out it's from "Lady Windermere's Fan." Great quote! :)

By the way, I have a fondness for (most) British humor. The way they word things just makes everything funnier!

Mei said...

Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said, on his deathbed, "The wallpaper and I are fighting a duel. One of us has got to go."

That man could turn a phrase, I tell you.

Waterfall said...

We're reading "Earnest" in my English Lit class, and the students are enjoying it so much. We're reading it aloud, and there have been times that they have to stop reading because they are laughing. I believe Wilde is probably their favorite of all the authors they've studied this year.

Princess of the Portable said...

I'm currently reading Shakespeare with my sixth graders. They're having a blast. I wish I could read Wilde with them when I was done, they'd love him. I think a lot of kids have been conditioned to think what they have to read in school must be boring. I told them they'd like Shakespeare, but they didn't believe me. Now they want to read more!

Mei said...

I know sometimes kids hear "Shakespeare" and their immediate reaction is to groan and whine and complain. I used to be like that myself.
I think the teacher has SUCH a huge impact on whether or not a kid will love a piece of literature; my high school teachers were not that great, but I had an AWESOME professor in college who made me LOVE Shakespeare.

Waterfall said...

Last year, our (very small) school had only one English teacher for the entire high school. When I told my classes that we'd be reading Shakespeare, they all groaned. This troubled me, so I decided to mention it to the other teacher--to see if her students had the same reaction.

"I told the kids we're reading Shakespeare--" I started, and the TEACHER groaned about how she hated Shakespeare. I was so mad--my students had had her last year, so it's no wonder that their view of Shakespeare was so negative.

Yes, the teacher makes a BIG difference.


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