Sunday, April 19, 2020

Scott Newstok's "How to Think like Shakespeare"

Scott Newstok is professor of English and founding director of the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College. A parent and an award-winning teacher, he is the author of Quoting Death in Early Modern England and the editor of several other books. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee.

Newstok applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How to Think like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Religious instruction was often staged in the form of a catechism: Make questions and by them answer. Think of Falstaff ’s skeptical turn on “honor,” rephrased here in a Q&A:
Q. Can honor set to a leg?

A. No.

Q. Or an arm?

A. No.

Q. Or take away the grief of a wound?

A. No.

Q. Honor hath no skill in surgery then?

A. No.

Q. What is honor?

A. A word.

Q. What is in that word, “honor” What is that honor?

A. Air. A trim reckoning!

Q. Who hath it?

A. He that died o’Wednesday.

Q. Doth he feel it?

A. No.

Q. Doth he hear it?

A. No.

Q. ’Tis insensible, then?

A. Yea, to the dead.

Q. But will it not live with the living?

A. No.

Q. Why?

A. Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it. Honor is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.
Our internal dialogue—our conscience (“thinking with”)—is rhetorical too, according to Isocrates:
The same arguments which we use in persuading others when we speak in public, we employ also when we deliberate in our own thoughts; and while we call eloquent those who are able to speak before a crowd, we regard as sage those who most skilfully debate their problems in their own minds.
A good motto for this period would be Erasmus’s audacious modification of the opening words of the Gospel of John: In principio erat sermo.
Page 99 comes from my short—deliberately short—chapter on “Conversation.” I open with Emerson’s assertion that Conversation is the laboratory and workshop of the student, then examine how deeply Shakespeare’s education was suffused with dialogue—and how ours should be, too.

In a book thick with quick, brief quotations, this page reproduces a comparatively long passage from Falstaff’s dialogue with himself. So it’s not characteristic; more typical would be a flurry of some dozen different authors cited in that same space. Throughout, I’ve stitched together an almost endless collection of scattered thoughts and observations into a kind of patchwork, or cento, of passages that have inspired me. Be forewarned: quotations come “swift as thought,” as Homer used to say. I do this precisely because thinking like Shakespeare means thinking with each other’s / harvest. And I’m eager for this eclectic chorus of voices to be the cause that wit is in other[s] (to cite Falstaff again!).
Visit Scott Newstok's website and learn more about How to Think like Shakespeare at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue