A Reading at A.B. Davis High, 1943

A memoir by Patricia (Pat) Cooper

Pacing the aisles of desks like a ship in full sail, silk dress rustling, corset faintly creaking, iron-grey hair stowed under a net, Miss Brower let us know from the start what she expected of a senior honors class: every one of us would take part in the Shakespeare readings, requiring no memorization, but a firm grasp of the plays, each of which would be discussed in class. Our first assignment would be “Macbeth”.

At first we resisted, mumbling or declaiming lines without regard to subtext or rhythm, but soon enough, in the face of her good-humored demands, began to do ‘the work’ and to enjoy it.  Everyone, that is, but Robert, star forward on our basketball team.  An accomplished word-swallower and inveterate sloucher, he’d been chosen (how come?) by our teacher to read Macbeth in the final battlefield confrontation with our very best Macduff.

As usual, Miss B. watched from the back of the room as valiant Macduff fired off his lines at this Macbeth, who had just began to wearily mutter his own speech when there came a great roar, “STOP AND THINK, Robert!  You are a KING!  You are a WARRIOR!  Rise up! RISE UP, MACBETH!”  Speechless, Robert stared at her a moment, then lowered his eyes, took a deep breath and slowly drew himself up to face Macduff, shouting loud and clear, “I will not YIELD to kiss the ground beneath young Malcolm’s FEET…” cutting a way for himself through the dense Shakespearean thicket.

Silence, then Miss B. led the applause, which evolved quickly into stomping as the actors smiled and smiled.  We had witnessed transcendence, and somehow recognized it as a rare and wonderful thing.  Ah, Miss Brower, brave Miss Brower, I thank you, even now.


Patricia (Pat) Cooper, a former playwright,  independent filmmaker and film executive at Paramount and Warner Bros. is Professor Emerita at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she was head of the Undergraduate Acting & Directing Area for many years.  Currently writing a memoir in bits and pieces, she is a passionate admirer of IRP, home of the brave and the free.