Shakespeare Behind Bars

Jean R. Trounstine, Author
Jean R. Trounstine, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-312-24660-0
Paperback - 258 pages - 978-0-472-03009-5
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Teachers who think their students are tough might find inspiration in Trounstine's 10-year stint teaching creative writing and theater in a high security Massachusetts state women's prison. Wry jokes about ""captive audiences"" and costumed inmates who are ""dressed to kill"" aside, Trounstine's tone is serious, and we watch her grow increasingly emotionally attached to her students. In chapters devoted to each of six inmates and prefaced by a brief quote from the Bard, Trounstine (editor of Changing Lives Through Literature) attempts to understand her students' lives and crimes through literature. ""Dolly,"" who is abused by her boyfriend, seems especially drawn to The Taming of the Shrew; ""Kit,"" the class clown, reminds Trounstine of Shakespeare's many fools. Rose, who is stigmatized by inmates and staff alike because of her HIV status, gives a heartbreaking rendition of Shylock's famous ""Hath not a Jew eyes"" speech, revealing that Trounstine isn't simply fitting her students' complex lives into theatrical set pieces. Despite their initial fear that ""Shakespeare is white man's theater,"" the students come to identify with the playwright's characters and use the experience of performance (Trounstine ends up directing eight plays) as a kind of art therapy. Aimed primarily at an academic audience, this affecting memoir should appeal to educators and general readers interested in the relationship between social change and artistic practice. (Feb.)
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