The Augsburg Podcast

The Augsburg Podcast

Doug Green: Self-Discovery in Literature and Drama

February 22, 2019


Doug Green: As a teacher of literature, as long as students can ground what they're saying in the text, I'm happy. It's rich stuff, so you can pull a lot of different things out of it. Probably the thing they most take away from my class is what's exciting about literature because I can't help myself, I get excited about it too.

Paul Pribbenow: Augsburg University educates students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. I'm Paul Pribbenow, the president of Augsburg University. And it's my great privilege to present The Augsburg Podcast, one way you can get to know some of the faculty and staff I'm honored to work with every day.

Catherine Day: I'm Catherine Reid Day, host of The Augsburg Podcast. We're speaking today with Doug Green, Professor of English at Augsburg. Welcome.

Doug Green: Hi. It's nice to be here.

Catherine Day: Where did you discover your passion for Shakespeare? When did that pop up in your life?

Doug Green: I always enjoyed reading him, even back in high school. I had very good high school English teachers. But I think the real passion came when I was at Amherst College in the '70s. A writer named Ben DeMott, who wrote regularly for The Atlantic, actually taught the Shakespeare course. And he was just the most fantastic lecturer. And he would read characters differently, three or four different ways. And that taught me a lot about drama and a lot about Shakespeare. And from there on, I was sold. Then I had a great teacher also, Elmer Blistein at Brown when I was there.

Catherine Day: Amherst was undergraduate and Brown was graduate school.

Doug Green: Graduate school.

Catherine Day: Okay. And you went on in English. That was what you were pursuing.

Doug Green: Yes. I was a classics major though also at Amherst. And my dissertation involved Latin, which I used to know.

Catherine Day: Where did you get this sort of pull for these classics do you think? Did that come earlier in your life?

Doug Green: That's a really good question. I'm not sure I know the answer to that. I started taking Greek in college because a roommate of mine said to me, "Wouldn't it be great to read Plato in the original?" And I thought, "Yeah, it would be." It turned out I didn't care that much about Plato, but I loved reading the tragedies in the original. And then I was just completely taken away. And I had a great professor there too, Rachel Kissinger, and we actually did two plays in Greek. And I played Tiresias in The Antigone in the second one, and Ajax's little brother in the first one, in The Ajax, both by Sophocles.

Catherine Day: What's the difference for you in reading the material and acting the material?

Doug Green: I would actually say that there isn't a difference for me. And some of this is just realizing that when you're reading drama, you actually have to hear it. You actually have to hear voices. And so when I read drama, if I'm skimming it, I'm not getting it. If I'm reading it silently, I'm not getting it. I have to stop regularly and read speeches that call out to be read, is the way I would put it, that sort of summon you to read aloud. And even if I'm not thinking about it, or I'm rushed, I find myself having to stop and say a passage aloud. Sometimes that happens with poetry too.

Catherine Day: Do you have your students read aloud a lot?

Doug Green: They have to do a performance project, so I don't train them to do that, but they have to ... This is in English class rather, and not a drama class. But they always do a performance project so that they learn that mode requires speaking. That mode requires thinking the words that you're saying and thinking your reception of other characters' word. That was one thing Ben DeMott taught us. I remember one exam by him where the question was, Miranda says, "Oh, brave new world." And the question he asked afterwards was: What is Prospero thinking? So it wasn't about why Miranda said the line. It was: What's going on in Prospero when she says that line? And I thought that was brilliant. And I've tried to keep that frame of mind alive in my classes about drama.

Catherine Day: It's helping people really understand the perspective, the point of view, the stetting, the emotion, all of that.

Doug Green: Right. And usually, it's not always this, but usually the interaction between characters. Really, all you have in a drama most of the time is a scaffold. And you're building the drama from the words, but that means building psyches. It's means building action. It means all of these things. And actually, I just had a chance to work with Darcey Engen in theater, so we're both teaching Shakespeare at the same time, but different Shakespeare classes. She's teaching acting Shakespeare, and I'm teaching just Shakespeare. I like the fact that I get the simple title.

Catherine Day: Vanilla version.

Doug Green: Right. And we planned a visit together in October, where we worked on Midsummer Night's Dream together. And we planned a visit that we just completed two classes on Macbeth at the beginning of November. And just to give you an idea of how this would be different from my class normally, we were in the TV studio, so we had a big space.

Catherine Day: The TV studio on campus.

Doug Green: Over in Foss, yes, on campus. It's a big open area. It's a good rehearsal room. And the first time Darcey had us working on the witches' scene in Macbeth. And we saw by the end of that, four different versions of what the witches are like. They had to memorize two lines and use them. And we could shut out the lights and do all kinds of minor special effects. They had props they had to use. Great training for my performance projects, the performance projects in my class. As I said, normally I'm not teaching them how to do that. They kind of have to find their way. I just love that they got this kind of practice this time. And it gave them a different relation to the words, so they were reading aloud. They were really speaking aloud.

The second time we did Banquo's, the appearance of Banquo's ghost at the banquet table, the feast in Macbeth. And we actually did a table reading at what could be the set, so we were all stretched out on a long banquet table lit by candlelight and a little bit of overhead, just enough to read. And we just simply went around with the parts and read aloud. And then we just stopped to talk about what just happened. How did this work? So a great example of close reading, but also giving us a feel for the atmospherics, who's talking to whom. What are they saying? How does Macbeth feel? What's Lady Macbeth doing here? She's got a complicated part in that scene. She's trying to calm the guests, doesn't see the ghost that Macbeth is seeing. What's going on? She's saying to her husband, "Straighten yourself out." So she's managing a lot of that scene. It's very difficult and very interesting. It was a lot of fun to do that.

Catherine Day: Sounds wonderful. You talked about the fact that you teach Shakespeare as being continuously relevant. How do you see that? Can you unpack that a little bit for us?

Doug Green: Two plays come immediately to mind that I've actually taught in the last couple weeks. One is Measure for Measure, which you don't even have to stretch it to think of it as Shakespeare's me too play. I mean, it's about sexual harassment. It's about assault. It's about leaders who don't obey the laws they set up. It's about the responsibility of leaders. The duke, who's not "the problem character" in the play, Angelo is, his deputy who takes over the city while he's out of town because he doesn't want to take responsibility for cleaning up the city. People won't like them then. Angelo's the one who actually abuses the nun, Isabella, in the scene, threatens her with rape. The duke himself is problematic. He is not taking responsibility for governing the city. That's what his job is. And it's a play that doesn't resolve well. There's ostensibly, everybody's married and happy, just like in the earlier comedies, what are called the high comedies, like As You Like It, or Twelfth Night.

And it doesn't feel real. It seems just conventional that he feels like, well, it's a comedy, so I'm going to set up the couples. But there's very much a sense in that play that the differences between men and women, the kinds of experiences that have been violent experiences in some ways, and threats that have gone on in that play are not something that you can simply gloss over. And I think Shakespeare's deeply troubled by them. And I think that reads powerfully in our period as well.

The other is Othello. And we're right in the middle of that right now. And that play is just eternally relevant, and especially with what's going on with race right now, what's going on with gender also. There's always a way into it, and a way that it speaks to the present moment. How does an outsider, how does a black man feel in a white society? That play still attracts actors who want to play that role. We're dealing with the stage history too, which is one of, sort of has a black face history. And how does that affect the way that part was seen? And what does that mean now if we see Olivier made up to play Othello? I don't think there's simple ... I mean, there's some simple answers to that. But the history of performance of many of the plays is just as interesting as the plays themselves in that regard.

Catherine Day: Given your student body, which is now increasingly diverse in so many respects, what kind of discussion comes out? I'm thinking of any of the subjects you've just touched on, whether it's gender. It seemed as though we're at a point at this moment where the me too movement is facing: Is it really doing its thing? It seems to be lodged in a question.

Doug Green: Right. Right.

Catherine Day: I don't know why it would be any other way, personally.

Doug Green: Right.

Catherine Day: What do the students say about that? How do they find themselves?

Doug Green: Well, let me sort of pick up on issues that I think are fraught, and that really intersect with our own problems right now about talking about those. One answer to your question is, I never know what they're going to say because I'm an older guy. Right? I'm in my 60s. So right now there are many things that I find surprising that students will say. Their experience, for one thing, we are more diverse, so we're getting a lot of different perspectives in class. I sometimes don't know what's going to come up. But I find that fascinating, so it's a great learning experience for me. The other piece of it is, though, that there are sometimes things that come up in teaching a play that I think surprise students from all different backgrounds. One of the things I teach about when I'm doing ... I usually do it with Henry the Fifth, and I use the Branagh film of that.

Catherine Day: Sir Kenneth Branagh.

Doug Green: Sir Kenneth Branagh, yes. He kept what Olivier didn't, because Olivier made that film during World War II. And he couldn't have traitors in it. Right? So he cut the traitor scene, which is early in the play. Branagh kept it. And in it, one of the traitors is a bedfellow, someone who slept with the king when the king was alone. He was a single man at that point, wasn't married. He's going to get married at the end of the play. And bedfellows were your companion of choice. Right? Your spouse wasn't. Your spouse was a political matter, an economic matter, a political matter. But your bedfellow was your choice. And so it raises a whole lot of questions about renaissance sexuality, English renaissance sexuality, that I don't think most students are aware of. And how do you think about sexuality across time? How did Shakespeare, who's using boy players also, to play women, think about sexuality and gender?

And that actually sparks a lot of interest across a variety of students that is in many ways positive because they can start thinking about: Well, how distanced am I from this? Am I right about, or have I thought about the complexities of the past? I think we sometimes thinking the past was bad, and now we're better. Maybe we don't right now. But I think it's easy to think that way. And in fact, there's a lot to learn from the past. It's not a nice neat progression. Be lovely if it were, but it's not.

And so they can actually find themselves at certain points in plays in ways they didn't think were possible. And that sometimes happens as well in Othello or Measure for Measure, when Isabelle's talking to her brother, for instance, and saying, "You wouldn't have me sleep with Angelo just to save your life. I know you would never do that." And he says, "Oh, death is a fearful thing, Isabelle." How do we respond to that? Is that a human response? Is that who's right and who's wrong in that situation? It's really fraught. And it gets right to the kinds of issues that we talk about today when you bring them down to a personal level.

Catherine Day: Do you anticipate that this is a place where they're challenging their own identity and ideals?

Doug Green: Yeah. I mean, I think they are surprised about the way Shakespeare makes them think about things that they often take for granted, or that they think they know the answer to. And a lot of that happens, I believe, because in Shakespeare, even in some of the smallest roles, there's always a moment or more where you suddenly get this kind of depth of character. In Twelfth Nights, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a minor character, mostly parodic, he's a fool, Sir Toby's taking advantage of him. And they're talking about love. And he says, "I was adored once too." And just for one minute, you understand why he's so desperate for love. And it's just this one moment. Everything else he says is ridiculous.

Catherine Day: You've been here a while. And I'm wondering with the change in the student population, I know the university has talked a lot about teaching to its students. Does it change the way you teach now, and in what ways if it does?

Doug Green: That's a good question, and a hard one. I think in my case, I don't know if it changes the way I teach or makes me very conscious that I need to check in with students a lot and make sure that I'm hearing what they're saying, that I take the time to understand where they may be coming from. The sort of jargon for that is being student centered. I tend to move back and forth between discussion and lecture, so I have to be careful that I'm also not talking to myself. I guess it's really not so much that I change the way I teach, is that I have to be highly conscious of what I'm doing and where they are, and kind of checking in to see. Does that make sense? Do people have questions about that?

And I love it when ... This happened the other day, actually, in Shakespeare. I said, "How's everybody doing?" There was some complex point about something. I don't remember what it was right now. And somebody had the guts to say, "I'm a little confused about this." I said, "Thank goodness. Is anybody else confused?" And of course, then I got 10 people confused. And that's great because then we can go back over what's confusing about it. Does this make sense to you? Why doesn't it make sense to you? And we might end up on the closer to the same page.

Catherine Day: I'm curious. For some of them, culturally, how do they experience the fact that this material has endured for so long and is still relevant? Does it surprise them?

Doug Green: It might depend a little bit on what class I'm teaching. In Shakespeare, I think students that take Shakespeare usually want to take it. I mean, some are taking it because they need to have a Brit lit class, or something along those lines. And I think then they may discover, oh, this is more interesting than I thought. It's not just old literature. The fact it's acted helps, and that they can ... They have to kind of make it their own.

Catherine Day: And that way it's more experiential.

Doug Green: It's more experiential, so I'm lucky I'm teaching that material. I think the same is sometimes true of poetry because that has to be read out loud, or I insist that at least some of it is. And so again, they have to figure out: How do I say this? What am I saying? Which, I have to say, as somebody who has taught John Ashbery only once with my colleague, Bob Cowgill, I have no idea what he's saying. And so when I have to read it out loud, it's extremely difficult. But it also makes me have to figure out: Well, how do you say this out loud? Where is this coming from? What kind of person is saying this? What kind of persona is speaking here?

Catherine Day: You've been here a while. And one of the things that you shared with me is that you've had the chance to essentially have three careers here.

Doug Green: Yeah.

Catherine Day: Could you speak about that a little bit?

Doug Green: Yeah. I could speak about that. I was talking to a colleague today, that I don't know if I had three careers, or 2.5 and another .5. I don't know for sure. There are two big breaks in my career. One is that I came in, I was schooled as a renaissance scholar. Pretty soon after I got here, I was able to teach Shakespeare in, at that time it was the weekend college program. Then eventually I was teaching it in both the traditional program and that adult program. And of course, I was teaching composition at the same time. And I was schooled in that as well. That's what I thought I'd be doing. And I loved doing it, and I taught a lot of Milton, for instance, which I didn't love quite so. I have a love hate relationship with Milton. But I did teach it for many years. And I found his poetry rich, but it's not the same for me as teaching drama.

Around 2000, I think it was 1999, at that point I had been writing poetry here for about 10 years, publishing a little bit. They needed somebody to take over the Intro to Creative Writing course. We had a last minute vacancy. And my colleague who worked extensively on that side of things, [inaudible 00:21:29], said to me, "Doug, I think it's time. We need you to do this." And I said, "Well, as long as you'll mentor me through it, I'll do it." And I've been doing that ever since, and I've loved it. It's just been fantastic. If you had asked me as a graduate student right in the middle of my graduate career, "Are you going to be teaching creative writing?" I would've said, "Well, no. I'm not even allowed to talk about the fact that I write poetry," because at that time you were told you're not going to be taken seriously as a scholar if you're also doing this other thing, so don't say anything about it, which I found an absurd position also.

But once I was doing both things here, it really enriched my whole experience. I loved my first 10 years here. But the subsequent almost 20 have been absolutely fantastic because I'm doing at least two different things. Along the way, and the reason why I kind of said, "Well, is it three careers? Maybe it's not exactly three." I've taught film regularly. I intersect with the drama because of my interest in drama, and now the fact that's a major part of my load. I have a drama sequence I teach also in American British and Commonwealth and World Drama, in addition to Shakespeare. I'm intersecting with them a lot, so have theater students in my classes many times. And I do dramaturgical in literary consulting for my colleagues over there, which I love. I'm so glad they let me do it. That's been another sort of aspect of my work here.

And then really since the early '90s, I've been involved in one way or another in women's studies. It was women's studies, and is now gender, sexuality, and women's studies. And was actually one of several people, Bev Stratton, who used to teach a religion and math here, who developed the queer studies class. And in fact, I'm teaching that now with my colleague, Mary Lowe, in religion. I have a varied career, I guess I'd say. And I love that. That's one of the advantages of teaching here as opposed to, say, teaching at the U. Some people will see it as an advantage to teach at the U for a lot of reasons. But for me, teaching at a liberal arts college, I'm able in some ways to pursue my interests. In some ways, we are generalists across our disciplines at least. And sometimes we even cross those disciplines, with a little trepidation I think at times. But trying to model what the educated person is for our students as well.

Catherine Day: Could you unpack what queer studies is?

Doug Green: I can. I can say a little bit about that. It's really grew out of what initially started as gay and lesbian studies. And it's the study of sexuality. I think it is, and it's taken a long time to be able to say that name and to make that name official, queer studies. It takes that name in part because understanding what our society marginalizes is actually important for everyone, and not just for those communities themselves, that you will understand your own sexuality better if you understand the varieties of queer sexuality, and the questions that arise when you're looking at different people's sexuality, and then looking at it across time and across cultures.

Catherine Day: How do you reflect on the impact you've had in the variety of topics you've been able to pursue? And in what ways do you think that goes forth into the world in the form of graduates who've had some of this experience?

Doug Green: I think about the philosopher, Richard Rorty, in a chronicle short version of a longer essay her wrote, that was published in the Chronicle probably 25 years ago now, he said, "There are two kinds of teachers. One teaches knowing-ness." Today we might say they're very deconstructive. They're very critical. There's all the sort of critical studies, that you take things apart to see how they work. You take things apart to see what effects they have? What are the consequences of them? What's the consequence of Othello as a representation of a black man, for instance? That's one kind of teaching.

The other kind Rorty says derives from Wordsworth. And I'm going to botch the quote. I wish my colleague, Del Little, were here. But it derives from Wordsworth. And it's something like, we will teach them what we love, and how, and I would say why we love it. And for me, it's always been a little bit of both of those things. Probably the thing they most take away from my class is what's exciting about literature because I can't help myself. I get excited about it too. At the same time, I know that for many of them, the critical aspects were surprising, what you could discover by analyzing a passage of Shakespeare, for instance, was surprising.

One of the things I have students do is translate. You can't see it, but there's air-quotes. Translating Shakespeare, a speech by Shakespeare, and then writing your interpretation of it because they start to discover that you actually can't say everything that the speech is saying. You try to approximate it. But the speech is doing more work than we can actually compass in our paraphrasing it. And I think that's something that they then, the sort of richness of that literature, which is the very thing that excites me. Rorty treats those things as separate, but I actually think that for me they've always been a kind of double mindedness that someone who loves literature and also teaches it has to bring into that arena, and that you hope that students can take away, that they'll be more excited about the reading they do because they have that experience.

I think that's only deepened by those students that I've encountered primarily in writing classes. We're reading in there. We're reading really great works of literature. But we're also reading them with an eye to how they might affect how we write. And then we're reading each other's literature. And I think it is eye opening for students to see their work treated as literature, and understood as something of significance, which I think, it's not that, that doesn't happen in composition classes, but there's a utility in especially basic composition classes that can't be avoided. There's a kind of instrumental quality. We want students to succeed in college. We need to help give them the tools for that. Hopefully they're getting more than that. I think my colleagues are really good at doing that. But in creative writing classes, we're really dealing with their work in some ways, something that they've got a personal, a deep personal investment in.

Catherine Day: That's exciting, fresh.

Doug Green: Thanks.

Catherine Day: Well, thank you for joining us today. We appreciate it.

Doug Green: It was a pleasure.

Catherine Day: That was Doug Green, Professor of English. I'm Catherine Reid Day, and this has been The Augsburg Podcast.

Paul Pribbenow: Thanks for listening to The Augsburg Podcast. I'm President Paul Pribbenow. For more information, please visit