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King Lear and Professor Tayler
Jon Nelson, Alum
Columbia College 1987
Teachers College 1994

Although at age 19 I had little understanding of Professor Tayler's lectures on Shakespeare's great tragedies, I knew enough to copy what he was saying as completely as I could. I recall him standing at the lectern, hovering over the yellowed pages of his notebook, held together by tape of various kinds. I recall the way he paused occasionally to look up from his notes, as if to see if we were still with him. When we reached King Lear after a year-long journey through three-quarters of Shakespeare's plays, he seemed to change right before my eyes. As he read excerpts from the play--"pray you, undo this button"--and paused as tears welled in his eyes, Professor Tayler seemed to move a little slower, seemed to age right before my eyes.

The way this play touched him stayed with me, and when I had the opportunity, after five years of teaching high school, to take over the senior AP Literature course, I added King Lear to the syllabus. I went back to the notes I had taken, read through the fragments of ideas I had captured, and filled in the incomplete sentences with what seemed the logical conclusions. In places, though, I felt like the archaeologist who finds the fragmented tablet with the teasingly partial message that can only be speculated on.

In the end, I had to lead my classes with my own fragmented understanding, and we worked together to discover the meaning for ourselves. Still though, I can't pick up King Lear without recalling vividly the days spent furiously scribbling as Professor Tayler impishly shared his knowledge of Shakespeare with a wry smile and a patience that I try to emulate every time I stand before a group of slightly distracted adolescents.

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