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Chekhov used to say, I have my own theater, and people assumed he was talking about the Moscow Art Theatre, but then Chekhov would tap his forehead and say, . . . in here.

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Make Your Own Play (the everyday theater)

. . .from my manual in-progress for using playwriting in the classroom. The classroom is the everyday theater. It is also a laboratory.

"Tragedy is the imitation of a serious or worthy and complete action having magnitude. . ." Aristotle, The Poetics

Tragedy comes from the Greek word for goat-song. So you wonder what's a goat got to do with it? It goes back to the goat that was sacrificed to the gods. You take something of value "Agamemnon took his daughter Iphigenia" and you sacrifice it to the gods. Why? To appease them. So that they will be merciful. As an expression of awe.

So why a goat?

Why a duck?

Who said anything about a duck?

The Marx Brothers. Why a goat? It's valuable. It's living. Why Iphigenia? She's a virgin.

Not to mention a human being.

Don't mention it. See the thing about tragedy: it's better than killing an actual human being.

The Greeks were brave, afraid of nothing. When Aeschylus followed the Rules of Writing Practice through to Number Three and Didn't Think and Just Wrote, he wasn't afraid to get right up in people's faces and say: What is Justice? He wasn't afraid to go eyeball to eyeball with the populous and say: Revenge is not Justice.

Complete means there's nothing left out. So that while the Greeks had a rule that there be no violence shown on stage, that was only half the rule. The other half of the rule was that all the effects of violence had to be shown. So Oedipus must emerge with bloody eye sockets.

Magnitude means you have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. . . .

". . . in speech made pleasing with each form (of pleasing ornamentation), then used separately in each part of tragedy, performed and not produced through narration, achieving through pit and fear a catharsis of such affections."

The parts of tragedy, or the Six Elements of drama are Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Sound, Spectacle.

So, what you try to do is follow the rules.

It's not a rule book. It's a scientific investigation. It's deductive as opposed to Plato's inductive. The definition of tragedy treats its four causes: efficient, material, formal, and final. In that order.

This guy Aristotle had a lot of free time on his hands.

He was trying to trace each cause to its uncaused cause, to put each problem in its simplest terms, and then call that the solution.

It's not the solution though; it's just the problem in its simplest terms.

There is no problem. The problem is the confusion, and when you clarify, there is no problem. Maybe that's what he was saying. All this free time on his hands. He thinks his way all around and inside a problem. He takes it apart and puts it back together.

He's not making up rules. He's trying to discover laws and obey them. As Bacon said, we cannot command nature except by obeying her.

The investigation begins with the efficient cause. How the work was effected, how it was brought into being by its maker. . . .

The Great Writers

. . . a teaching tool

Shamrock McShane

The Great Writers is also a work in progress. I've been using it since I returned to teaching middle school in Hawthorne in 1987. After a stint at the University of Florida as graduate assistant, lecturing in theater appreciation class, teaching composition and fiction-writing to undergraduate students, and tutoring the athletes, I thought I'd split the difference and teach eighth grade. The Great Writers program amounts to putting the name of a great writer in the heading on the board each day and then talking about that writer as a mini-lesson to start each class, (sometimes I don't talk about the Great Writer at all, I forget or nobody asks, and life goes on, but then I can always talk about the Great Writers)  by reading a passage from the writer's work, putting it in historical and literary context, often (but not always) putting a quote up on the chalkboard so that all can see the words in action. And if we're lucky, we talk about the writer, the writing, the issues raised, and we learn something. . .

(180 Great Writers with dates, quotes, thumbnail sketch, and gloss on each. A great way to start each class.)

Methods of teaching the Language Arts*:

  • Diagramming
  • Great Writers
  • Writing Practice
  • Dramatic Reading
  • books: (see Language Arts 2001)
  • HomePhone 352-955-6718, #5380
  • Audio Bonus Points
  • Bonus Points
  • Caught 'Ya* (by Jane Keister, Maupin House)
  • The Journey of All Time

Essay Means "To Try"

a long essay on the essay

Radio Plays

From 1989 through 1996, Gainesville's NPR outlet, WUFT-FM "Classic '89", conducted a Radio Play-Writing Contest for middle school and high school students.  From 1990 through 1995, my students were the winners of the contest. The results are some wonderfully produced radio plays with professional casts and superb sound quality. As for the scripts, they are works of art by young artists. (See "Uses of Radio Drama" in The English Journal, Volume 83, #1, January, 1994)

  • 1990 The Woods  by Jennifer Goodwin, Grade 7, Hawthorne Middle School
  • 1991 The Woods Are Still  by Jennifer Goodwin, Grade 8, Hawthorne MS
  • 1992 Sunset on Lake Michigan  by Chris Whiting, Grade 7, Hawthorne MS
  • 1993 Murder Can't Be Hid  by Chris Whiting, Grade 8, Hawthorne MS
  • 1994 Stealing Home  by Bobby Foss, Grade 8, Westwood Middle School
  • 1995 Transport  by Mark Tenace, Grade 8, Westwood MS