TA Angst (and a really difficult Macbeth quiz)

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before, but this semester I’m TAing* in Shakespeare: Histories and Tragedies. Being “Early Modern,” Shakes is almost medieval, after all, even though the official word is that he’s a Renaissance writer and the Renaissance marks the point where Europe collectively came to its senses, washed its hair, invented science, and stopped believing in superstitions.

Anyway, if you wonder where I’ve been the last few months, I’ve been spending half my time reading Shakespeare plays and criticism in order to be able to lead my weekly discussion section without looking like a complete ass.** And as part of my lesson plan, I’ve been giving my students a quiz each week. This seemed like a good idea back when I was worried about filling up fifty minutes of class time, but each week it’s gotten harder and harder to write the darn thing.

It’s my own fault; I’ve set an unreasonable standard. Half the quiz each week is just quote identification, though I do my best to mix it up on them. I don’t have quotes from Othello of Othello talking about vengeance, or of Hamlet being a whiny philosophical wet blanket. Instead I’ll give Hamlet talking about vengeance and Othello being philosophical. The other half of the quiz is supposed to be more clever. (If any of my students happen upon my blog, I’m sure they’ll protest this point.) When we covered Henry IV, part 1, I gave them “Name that Henry,” a list of traits they had to attribute to Hal, Hotspur, both, or neither. This was a sequel to the “Which Richard?” quiz that followed our discussion of Richards II and III.

I should mention that these quizzes have absolutely no effect on the students’ grades. I’m totalling up the points from the quizzes, and the student with the highest total gets movie tickets to the local art house theater.

But this past week, I went too far, apparently, and made a quiz that was undoable.*** I’ve been wallowing in it the past few days, but now I’ve decided to do something positive and give my quiz to the world. It all works out, really, if you just start with the earl of __________.

Part 1: Blanks and Banks: Use only words from the bank, and only use each word ONCE. Score 1 point for a double, or two blanks correctly filled, 3 for a triple, and 4 for all four answers correct in a sequence.****


At/In _____________, the thane of ____________ fought with ____________ and _____________.

At/In _____________, the thane of ____________ brings word of____________’s defeat by _____________’s son.

At/In _____________, the thane of ____________ killed _____________’s father ______________.

At/In _____________, the earl of _____________ and _____________ attack ______________.

If anybody actually enjoys this quiz, I’ll post the answers later.

*Teaching Assistant-ing, though for some reason at Yale we’re called TFs, or Teaching Fellows–probably an attempt to appease the graduate union or something, but a hollow gesture nonetheness; we’re always called TA’s by our students, professors, and usually even each other.
**The other half, as always, has gone to video game plumbers. Right now, I’m enthralled with making the plumber play tennis.
***That is, unable to be done, not able to be undone.
****If I was really bright, I’d be able to make this into a little web-app that would have dropdown boxes that depopulated once you used a word from the bank. But I’m not.

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  • Another Damned Medievalist

    Carl — I have to ask… is it really important to go into this kind of detail to understand the play?

    I *could* ask questions like this, too. But I don’t. Because it encourages students to look for picky things, and not for why they should care.
    But then, I’m not a Lit person

  • LLCoolCarlIII

    Yes and no, obviously–I admit that on this quiz I went too far, but I definitely do, in general, want students to look for “picky” things.

    I want them to realize that at the beginning of the play, Macbeth and Banquo fight a battle for Duncan at Fife, against the arrayed forces of MacDonald, the thane of Cawdor, Norway, and Ireland. I want them to make the connection that Macduff, Macbeth’s foil, is the thane of Fife; so this is Macbeth showing up Macduff in his own back yard. That Ireland was on the battlefield is important, too, since Duncan’s son Donalbain flees there when Macbeth takes power. I want them to understand that Rosse and Lennox are not just random people–they’re the thanes of lands, in a political sense just as important as Macbeth and Macduff. I want them to get that this is an elective kingship, not just a hereditary one. And so on.

    Now, do they have to be able to play silly little fill in the blank games in order to understand the play? Of course not. That’s me, the TA, flailing about trying to make this “fun”–emphasis on the scare quotes.

  • Another Damned Medievalist

    I like to do stuff like that with a map (or map quiz) instead. Seeing how people are arrayed on a map is great for showing why there might be tensions.

  • Rebecca

    I had a Shakespeare class in college where the midterm was basically a quote test, but it was, identify the play, act, scene, speaker, context, and significance. I had done all the reading, most of it pretty closely, and this was COMPLETELY beyond my ken.

    I quit the class. 🙂

  • LLCoolCarlIII

    I’ve done the map thing before, when we studied the Henry IV/V sequence.

    No one was interested, but here are the answers anyway:

    At Fife, the thane of Glamis fought with Norwayand Ireland.

    At Forres, the thane of Rosse brings word of Macdonald‘s defeat by Sinel‘s son.

    At Inverness, the thane of Cawdor killed Donalbain‘s father Duncan.

    At Dunsinane, the earl of Northumberland and Macduff attack Macbeth.

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