O Brave New World! Just Another English Class at RMC.
It was February, 1979 – frosty and cold. The morning coffee break had just finished over at Yeo Hall and the Artsies shuffled back to Massey Library to work once again on their erudition. Many of them headed up the stairs to the third floor of the library building to take their classes in English Literature, Philosophy, History, and Economics.
The course that focused on Shakespeare’s plays was known for its difficulty, as well as its excellence. Perhaps that is why only five cadets had enrolled that term – Barber, Pile, Lambert, Avis, and Wax Johnson (from third year). Oddly, the classroom assigned for this intense class was the largest one on the third floor – with room for thirty students!
The professor for this class, Dr. Michael Mason, was a renowned scholar of Jane Austin and Shakespeare. He had spent several years as a thespian (actor / player) in London’s theatre district living the Shakespeare life and building his profound knowledge in this area. He knew his stuff!
The cadets had chosen their seats, somewhat dispersed across the room. Several had taken their modestly polished shoes off -- for the best learning experience! Today’s class was to be on Othello, Shakespeare’s great tragedy of jealousy, betrayal, and wrath. Most of the class had read the play in the days that led up to this class. It was going to be an amazing experience!
Dr. Mason entered the classroom with a somewhat mystified demeanor. A seemingly shy man, he gazed around the room as if searching for stage props that had been promised. He held on to his notes and the Complete Works of Shakespeare volume and addressed (with a dulcet, English accent) his bemused class in the following manner: “This … this just will not do! Please gather your belongings and follow me.”
With smiles on their faces, the cadet-Calibans followed their Prospero down the hall to his office. He invited them in and motioned to them to gather stools and chairs around his large desk. Crossing the threshold into Dr. Mason’s office was indeed like entering into a brave new world – after the drab existence that RMC for the most part had offered. There were oriental rugs on the floor, tapestries on the walls, shelves and shelves of books, and portraits of poets, playwrights, and politicians!
Dr. Mason calmly soothed our amazement and readied for the class. He offered, “Please pour the tea for those that partake, and over there, sure to be a favorite with present company, are Mrs. Mason’s home-baked cookies! Barber, you will read Othello, the Moor. Avis, Iago, the treacherous villain. Lambert, Desdemona. Pile, Cassio. And young Johnson, Roderigo and Brabantio. I will attempt to do justice to the other characters. Begin!”
And off the cadets started, huddled together in a literary forest, with cookies and tea, reading one of the greatest plays ever written with a beneficent guide leading us. Wow!
N.B. Banner photo from playshakespeare.com with credit to David Hou.