How Brandeis University Professor Brings Shakespeare’s Great Works to Rwanda
January 3, 2023
Following her passion for teaching literature,Jehuda Reinharz Professor of Humanities Lamy Turgoff found himself in an unexpected place last fall. Around the world, William He taught Shakespeare to medical students at Equity College in Global Health in Rwanda.
Partners in Health, a global organization dedicated to bringing cutting-edge healthcare to communities in need, recently established a medical school in Rwanda. Local students are admitted free of charge if they agree to serve the country for six years after graduating from medical school. In addition to receiving medical training, the school provides all students with seven months of liberal arts education. Then came Targov.
“The medical school wanted to make sure each student had the writing, writing, and communication tools to succeed,” says Targoff. “This will really lay the foundation for their program.”
Turgov, who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Renaissance Literature at Brandeis University, was asked to join the team leading the initiative in 2022.
She began teaching online lectures in the spring and continued with new classes of students this fall.
She wanted her Rwandan students, like those at Brandeis, to be given plenty of opportunities to explore interests outside of their chosen fields.
“In most countries of the world, you just choose your field of study. You become an architect, a doctor, etc.,” she said. We allow our students to explore different fields and pursue their intellectual curiosity.”
When she began designing the course, Turgov wanted to focus on Shakespeare’s plays, but allowed students to choose which texts to read. After the students chose “Macbeth,” Turgov contacted his contacts and obtained his student’s book.
“We contacted the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., which has the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare prints, to see if we could donate 50 copies of Macbeth,” Turgov said. “Many of these students don’t own many literary books. They were excited just to have a physical copy for themselves.”
Upon arriving in Rwanda, Turgov toured the new medical facility and the nearby regional hospital. As she walked around campus, she discovered students who were addicted to reading Shakespeare.
“I noticed six young women sitting on the grass reading ‘Macbeth’ aloud to each other,” Turgov said. “It was inspiring to see how excited they were to participate in a Shakespeare play.”
Through classroom conversations with students, Turgov began to see “Macbeth” in a whole new light. As Turgov spent time with him reading and analyzing various moments and scenes from the play, he found that his students focused on both themes about witches and mental health.
“In rural Rwanda, students explained that it is difficult to convince Western doctors when they need antibiotics or serious treatment because many villagers still rely on traditional treatments. “Students were interested in discussing local healers in relation to the power witches have in Macbeth. I was interested in the potential for both positive and negative impacts.”
The students also discussed Lady Macbeth’s struggles with mental health. She cannot diagnose her because her doctor cannot find any disease in her body.
“There were no psychiatrists in the Renaissance. Anatomy laboratories were just being established. The question is, ‘Where in the body is the madness?'” Turgov said. “These are the conversations I will bring with me the next time I teach this material at Brandeis.”
Turgov will continue teaching Shakespeare to the next class of medical students in 2023. She also plans to establish a book club that connects students from Rwanda and Brandeis, connecting both classes around the world through the same reading material.
She hopes that students in both Rwanda and Brandeis will understand the importance of making the liberal arts the foundation of their education.
“These students from Rwanda will be the next leaders in healthcare in our world. If we can help them understand the connection between the humanities and sciences, it will be a great gift.”