A new textbook written by Earlham professor Nate Eastman offers a different kind of approach to appreciating William Shakespeare and understanding how stories are well told.
Shakespeare’s Storytelling: An Introduction to Genre, Character, And Technique (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021) illustrates how the stories that Shakespeare wrote, and the techniques that he used to write them have been adapted by writers for popular television shows like “Sex and the City,” novels like “Beloved” and plays like “Fences.”
“I wrote this book to solve a really specific problem,” said Eastman, a Shakespearean scholar and associate professor of English at Earlham.
“Instead of teaching Shakespeare the traditional way, by looking at history, this book is forward-looking. Readers can see what Shakespeare does, and learn why he matters, by seeing how his storytelling techniques have been used in books, TV shows, and movies that they already know and love,” he said.
The textbook was written to support high school and college classes in the areas of creative writing, English, film and media. The book is available in digital and paperback formats.
“This is for people who are teaching or experiencing Shakespeare, but who are not necessarily planning to go to graduate school,” he notes. Eastman’s text focuses on the craft of storytelling rather than on the history of the original works and the scholarship that has grown around them.
Eastman’s Earlham students are already familiar with the innovative approach of the book. During the last decade, he has taught several versions of a course called Shakespeare’s Afterlives, which reads modern novels, plays, and films, including “Star Wars,” “The Godfather” and “The Fifth Season.”
“Shakespeare matters because he was an inventor,” he said noting the famed playwright’s use of character flaws, conflicts, and symbols in his plays.
Shakespeare’s portrayal of father figures in “Hamlet,” for example, gives its protagonist a choice of opposing values to be guided by.
“’Star Wars,’ ‘Coraline,’ ‘Moana’ and dozens of other stories use that same technique as Shakespeare’s,” he said. “Young characters make decisions about how they’re going to live, and which values they’ll adopt, by choosing loyalties to specific adults.”
In addition to his classes and published works, Eastman is also a founding member and current vice president of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, which was established in 2014. The organization works with student interns and professional performers in its summer productions at Whitewater Gorge Park in Richmond. The organization also sponsors Shakespeare in the Park at Elstro Plaza.
In 2010, Eastman also collaborated with Earlham’s Theatre Arts department to teach a yearlong sequence of courses in which students helped produce “Othello.” A focus of the initiative was on dramaturgy, or researching the history of the text, the culture in which Shakespeare wrote, and the history of the racial, political and religious conflicts that informed the play in order to prepare aides for the actors, director and crew.