Discussion Questions and Responses

For two separate class meetings, you will formulate and pose three or more questions. For two other class meetings, you will be a respondent, ready to address the questions formulated by your peer(s). For most of our class sessions, we will have two questioners and two respondents. Our discussions will be more interesting if the two people posing questions consult with each other to ensure that we have six distinct questions. Please send your questions via CourseSpace to the class 24 hours before the class meeting.

Suggestions for Questions (1.5% for each set of questions)

Please draw on readings from prior weeks as seems appropriate. One of our aims is to make ongoing connections as we work our way through the readings.

“Yes/No” questions are not effective unless you genuinely want to poll the class, in which case you need a follow-up question or suggestion that invites justification and debate of positions taken. For example, I have used the following question to generate debate about The Merchant of Venice in performance:

  • Is the production anti-Semitic? Think about whether Shylock is portrayed as an individual who happens to be Jewish or as a representative of all Jews. You might also want to think about his relationship with other Jewish characters in the play (Jessica and Tubal).

Pose “What do you think of…” questions sparingly.

“Who” usually needs a follow-up question or two, as in “Who are the winners and the losers at the end of the play? What are the social implications of such an ending?”

“How” and “For what reason…” questions usually work well. It is often helpful if you provide a little bit of context. Examples:

  • Jenkins claims that Q2 is the most authoritative text. How does he justify his decision to include passages from F?
  • Jenkins omits what he ‘judge[s] to be playhouse additions.’ For what reason does he do so? What can we learn about his editorial philosophy from this policy of omission?

“Why” questions are useful if you want to get at matters that may not be articulated fully or that may form a subtext. “Why does Jenkins include passages from F?” will invite quite a different answer from the one we’d give to “How does he justify his decision…?” We might notice, for example, that Jenkins seems to take a certain aesthetic pleasure in the passages from F that he does include. He likes them; because he finds them aesthetically pleasing, he attributes them to Shakespeare; because they are “by Shakespeare,” he includes them.

You might want to pose your question in several ways, in which case you might decide to contribute a “question cluster” instead of a single question. Examples:

  • [About the controversy over the Oxford Complete Works]: What do you gain from the way that passages extrinsic to the copy text are presented? What do you lose? What would happen in a classroom if you were showing the Olivier film version to a class reading this edition? What happens to criticism based on the play when scenes are renumbered?
  • [About a particularly controversial line]: How have editors responded to Portia’s line, “Let all of his [Morocco’s] complexion choose me so”? What is the nature of the note in each edition, if there is one? Is it a gloss, an explanation, a justification, an interpretation, or some combination thereof? What definitions have they offered of “complexion”? Have they made links to other passages in the play? To other texts? Why do you think editors have felt obligated to gloss this word? Can you see a historical trend in editorial treatment?

Responses (1% for each set of formal responses)

On the day you are making a response, you are responsible for being exceptionally well prepared for class and for ensuring that each of the questions receives a response. You are welcome to consult with the other respondent for that day, if there is one. I too will bring questions and discussion points to each class. I will give the respondent(s) the opportunity to speak first, but you are welcome to “pass” until later in the conversation, particularly if we have a long “speakers’ list” developing.