Stories generally carry themes throughout history. The story of love and loss, the story of peace and war
and the story of people. What if an old story could be turned on its head, or brought back to life? That is
exactly what Professor Barbara Sebeck is trying to do. As a professor of Shakespeare II, a class required
for all English majors, she had the courage to try something a little different.
Inspired by an old radio episode of “This American Life,” Sebeck heard about a story of life aboard a
military aircraft carrier. While listening, she could not help but draw similarities between what was
happening on this aircraft carrier, and what was happening in Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure.
This then stirred the thought of the modernization of Shakespeare.
“I proposed it to the class, and they seemed really excited about the idea,” said Sebeck.
It was proposed as an optional project and though some are still opting to go a more traditional route
with an end of term paper, many jumped on the idea with enthusiasm. Nicole Smith, an English creative
writing major was one of those students.
“The idea was very provoking from the beginning, and it seemed like a fun alternative to an end of the
year critical essay,” said Smith.
Senior English education major Amanda Anderson had similar things to say.
“I really like the idea because it requires that you integrate two completely different eras and settings,
forcing you to consider both the minutiae of the play and the themes that transcend time,” said
With the project, though interesting to the masses, came some challenges. The process of modernizing
was not as easy as it might seem. Many of the characters couldn’t fit into modern rolls and had to be
altered. Some characters were complex, and a modernization could change things fundamentally.
“So, in our modern adaptation, do we make the Duke into a genuine guy, or do we make him into a
pseudo villain?” asked Smith.
Trying to organize an open ended project, Sebeck and her students discussed what it meant to
modernize a play and what modern day issues would come into light. In Shakespeare’s Measure for
Measure, sex and power become predominate issues. How would rape in the military be thrown into
their new found adaptation? How would it be handled?
“It seemed like a really interesting, potentially controversial, way of thinking about our current issues
about sexuality and sexual behavior.
Though still in its rough stages, both Sebeck and her students are trying hammer out the details and go
beyond this as an end of the year project. With an open project, Sebeck was able to give her students
the reigns. Some were considering re-writing the play, and some considering doing more research. Many
students went with different settings altogether and some kept the play within the military. Hoping
to see it into the future, Sebeck and her students discussed involving theater and going beyond just
reading and analyzing though nothing has been set in stone.
“It makes the subject more appealing to students and allows them to immerse themselves in it in a more
meaningful way,” said Smith.
College Avenue reporter Devin O’Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for the Interviewing Guide issue of College Avenue on racks April 23rd!