Serendipitous Student Connections #2 (Prank/ Revenge/ Merchant of Venice)
If you're a regular reader, then you are probably acquainted with my new recurring feature (Serendipitous Student Connections) but don't worry if you missed the first episode-- the premise is simple-- sometimes a kid says something in class that is so unexpected that it changes the entire course of the lesson . . . and this doesn't happen that often, because once you've been teaching a number of years, you can predict what most of the responses will be, but once in a while there is the example that surprises you and makes you see the literature in a different light; for instance, in my Shakespeare class, we recently finished 12th Night and are now in the midst of Merchant of Venice, and both these plays have themes of revenge in them (Malvolio's last line in 12th Night is: "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!" which is an odd-- but deserved-- note on which to end a comedy, and Merchant of Venice revolves around Shylock and his desire for a pound of flesh from his anti-Semite rival Antonio) and Shakespeare is smart enough not to choose sides and instead hold a mirror up to the dark side of human nature and the very real and rational desire for vengeance . . . and so when one of my students walked into class and said his life was starting to resemble Merchant of Venice, I knew that his example was going to be good-- this student is a soccer player and he played a prank on one of his soccer buddies: he had all this player's friends text the player a simple "Congratulations" message and then he created a very persuasive but completely fake web page that named his friend the MVP of the Middlesex County Soccer Tournament-- and his victim, like Malvolio, was a rule-following honorable soul who had played well enough to be deserving of such a title-- and because of this, the victim fell for the article hook, line, and sinker . . . and at this point my student realized that he had to tell the truth to his friend, before he started telling everyone about his "award," which was fictitiously created and digitally distributed on a fabricated web page . . . but when he told his buddy about the prank, he attempted to set the rules of revenge-- he knew his friend would have to seek revenge but he wanted to control exactly how his friend would punish him-- and this is exactly what happens in Merchant of Venice-- but of course it is difficult to dictate vengeance and emotions in contractual terms-- and so my student, who is much smaller than his victim, persuaded his victim that though he absolutely deserved revenge for this emotionally humiliating prank, that the revenge couldn't be physical (because the victim could easily beat up the perpetrator, he's a much larger kid) and had to be in the same genre as his prank-- emotional-- but I explained to him that in the milieu of vengeance, the rules are always broken . . . Osama bin Laden wanted to liberate Muslim holy sites and get revenge for American influence in Saudi Arabia so he blew up civilians in an office tower . . . and then the United States invaded and decimated two entire countries to exact our revenge against bin Laden . . . Whitney and I threw some apples at a door in our fraternity house and it started a cycle of revenge that ended in a friend nailing a dead raccoon to someone's door . . . and so the cycle of revenge is never predictable and never reasonable, and-- as Shakespeare illustrates-- sometimes it takes a woman to put an end to the silliness, because women never hold a grudge . . . right?