Shakespeare Behind Bars, Jean Trounstine. Read in May 2011.
Being an English teacher I have long harbored the dream of actually reaching out to troubled students and helping them find the inspiration to get their lives together. Working with women in prison has been a thought. It probably won’t happen for me. It did for this author.
Jean Trounstine gets a teaching job in a New England women’s prison. The inmates are not into Shakespeare but Trounstine experiments. Focusing on six women, who come to the classes mainly to pass dreary time, she writes about how by putting on The Merchant of Venice these women work their way through past traumas and tragedies, how they protest, refuse to continue, complain about the language, deal with ornery prison guards, and then after months of hard work, lots of aggression and anger and tears and heartbreak, they actually perform the play for their fellow inmates. And prove a lot of things to themselves and the skeptics.
There’s a touch of the Hollywood feel-good to the book but it is nevertheless a good read and shows once again that Shakespeare is for everyone.