Instructor Spotlight: Gabe Lonsberry


Writer(s): Kristyn Childres

Gabe Lonsberry is a Ph.D. candidate who studies political connections in late Shakespeare. Gabe says, “I’m drawn to Shakespeare’s later plays because they’re a little strange – they’re more like fairy tales, which is weird after Hamlet and Macbeth ­– going from deep, psychological plays to something much more magical.”

These plays were written after King James took the throne, and Gabe’s work focuses on tying them to the political situation of that era. “During that time, the court staged plays for itself – dramatizing the ideal world that the court wanted to see,” he says. “They spent so much money on these incredible stages with elaborate decorations and machinery that turned or transformed. All the foreign ambassadors were present. It’s hard to think of a modern analogy – maybe it would be like Trump staging a military parade for himself." 

Gabe says the time period was particularly interesting. “Shakespeare was still independent and writing for the public, but on the books he was an employee of the King, and every Christmas season, he was expected to stage a bunch of plays. I try to argue that, whatever Shakespeare’s intentions or personal political opinions were, if you saw his plays being performed before the court, then you would probably see them as a political statement.”

A composition course based on existentialism

Several semesters into teaching English 106, Gabe decided to design an existentialist-themed course. “I found a $15 collection of existentialist essays and stories that became the basis for the course readings. Then, I thought about how I could meet the ICaP learning outcomes using those essays. We examined the rhetorical situation and crafted arguments. We responded to argumentative essays and connected them to current events.”

“I think students can learn to write by writing about anything,” Gabe says, “especially when it’s complicated or controversial in some philosophical way. No matter what they end up studying, they will be put in the position of trying to understand a difficult subject and then needing to talk about it or engage with it. Being able to speak eloquently and clearly is one of the main skills I tried to teach.”

“I built projects around a few stories and essays that I found particularly interesting. I had them read Kafka’s ‘A Country Doctor.’ In that story, this doctor makes a house call and everything gets surreal. The family turns on him and is chasing him in a horror-esque way. It’s impossible to not have a reaction to a story like that.”

Gabe says the theme allowed for some fun and interesting conversations. “In Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky is reacting to the Scientific Revolution. Many of my students were in science and engineering. Asking them ‘When do we have too much science?’ definitely provoked a passionate response.”

“I also had them read Fight Club, and then we watched the movie. Later, they made a podcast discussing the adaptation – the process of moving between two mediums. I emphasized that a podcast itself is a different medium than they were used to working in.”

Gabe has also taught semesters around a more standard syllabus. “Even then, I challenged myself to find and assign texts I was passionate about. If I’m passionate about something, I can get my students to be passionate about it, too. It was difficult, but it was extremely rewarding to see them excited about learning how to write.”

Teaching critical thinking and modeling how to be a good student

“Critical thinking skills are sorely needed in society,” Gabe says. “I think there’s space – especially in the frame of a composition class – to have students begin to develop that muscle. You give them opportunities to start reflecting on what they’re doing and what they’ve done, and through the process, they become better students.”

Gabe says that being a good student is a process – a series of steps that students need to implement and choices they need to make – and sometimes they don’t know how. “As a graduate student, I can impart a lot of advice to freshmen about how to be a good student. I can teach them to think critically and teach practical study skills like a notetaking system. I tell them part of the skill of being a good student is having too much to read and knowing what material to prioritize and what you can just scan.”

Gabe says, “I try to be really transparent about that kind of student-based issue. I tell my students to find the system that makes them the best student. Do you like to read at a coffee shop? Do you like to read on your couch? Does it have to be perfectly quiet?” He says that finding the right system involves trial and error.

The importance of teaching Shakespeare

Gabe says there’s a relationship between the way he approaches teaching and the way he approaches his research interests. “I gravitated towards studying Shakespeare because he’s such a pervasive figure culturally. If you study Shakespeare, you can talk about almost anything,” he says. “It’s like a portal.”

He offers examples: “What did Freud think of Shakespeare? How was Shakespeare used in propaganda for the American Revolutionary War? How does Shakespeare appear in Japanese cinema? There’s feminist criticism, ecological criticism – anything you can think of.”

Similarly, Gabe says, there are numerous angles from which to approach Shakespeare in the classroom. When teaching Shakespeare as an assistant to Professor Sandor Goodhart, Gabe helped students see the bard as a pathway to talk about their passions. “That got them really excited about Shakespeare. There are infinite angles.”


Last Updated: Apr 8, 2020 6:42 PM

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