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“Double, double, toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”: The Weird Sisters (Andrew Zox, Cleo House, Jr., and Eric Hissom) in Macbeth at Folger Theatre (2008). Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Chris Lavold

If you are a fan of Folger Education, you are well aware of the focus on performance-based teaching and how getting kids up on their feet is an effective way to understand and appreciate Shakespeare’s plays.

I have found that an excellent complement to this is to view film clips of performances to generate intelligent class discussions. Some of the most interesting and insightful days of my ninth grade Macbeth unit were the days we watched multiple interpretations of the same scene. This also fits the Common Core Standard RL.7  perfectly:

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production…), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.

The clips I mostly use are from the Folger 2008 production and the Polanski 1971 film. For certain scenes I might use the 2006 Australian version, the 2010 BBC version starring Patrick Stewart, or the 1948 Orson Welles film.

On  video analysis days, my class uses Michael LoMonico’s video expert sheet. I break the students up into four or five groups. Each group has five individual jobs, and each student in the group will do their task while watching the film clips.

  • The screenwriters follow the text and write notes about which lines were omitted or rearranged.
  • The cinematographers watch the camera angles and lighting. They ask questions such as  “Is the lighting trying to portray a theme?  Does a low camera angle tell the viewer someone is in an authoritative position?”
  • The sound editors are not allowed to watch the clip. They must have their backs to the screen and write down sounds they hear. Examples would be natural background sounds like a dog barking or the wind blowing. They also observe what the music tells us about what may be taking place on the screen.
  • The set and costume designers pay attention to the location, costumes, and props. This is always fun to talk about during the opening witch scene in Macbeth or the banquet scene where Banquo’s ghost appears.
  • The last group are the actors who concentrate on an actor’s performance paying close attention to accents, tone, subtext, and emphasis on certain words or lines.

Continue Reading »

By Sara Lehn

Last year an unforgettable group of my twelfth grade students became fascinated with the connections they saw between Batman and Hamlet.  At first I was skeptical, but the more they defended their beliefs, the more I came around to their way of thinking.

Consider: an angry, morose member of the wealthy elite who has lost his parents and has very few people to whom he can turn, disgusted with the disgraceful state of his beloved city and obsessed with a need to seek justice for his lost loved ones.

It does sound kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

My students used this parallel as the basis for their final video project on Hamlet, performing the famous “closet scene” between Gertrude and Hamlet in full Batman regalia, drawing parallels to the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker in the film The Dark Knight.  They called it The Adventures of Batlet Hamman and played it to an enthusiastic response at our school’s Shakespeare Festival in April.

Since then, I have been intrigued by connections between Shakespeare’s classic works and current pop culture.  Teachers frequently use modern updates of the plays in class, but many of us don’t consider the films and television shows out there that share similar themes and characters but may not have been intentionally conceived with Shakespeare in mind.

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Secondary Festival 2013

Secondary School Shakespeare Festival, 2013. Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Mike Klein

Year after year kids in my classroom have strikingly similar reactions to my announcement, “Tomorrow, we’ll be starting Shakespeare.” That reaction is usually a series of “Ughs,” or “Oh nos!” or “Whys?” The most dreaded by English teachers everywhere is, of course, “I hate Shakespeare!”

Perhaps I am different, perhaps I’m a masochist, but I relish these answers. I see them as my opportunity to do what I set out to do when I decided to become a teacher – change minds.

Teaching Shakespeare in my class begins by starting not with books, but with words. Not just any words, Shakespeare’s words. The most effective method of getting kids of any age (I know because I do these lessons with my middle school drama kids!) comfortable with Shakespeare is by leaving the books on the shelves. Books can be cumbersome and have copious notes and footnotes so I begin by giving them a single page of lines from the play I’m going to start them with.

Almost any play works with an exercise called “Three-Dimensional Shakespeare,” outlined by Michael Tolaydo in Shakespeare Set Free. I use it for Hamlet, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing.

Continue Reading »

Adirondack Shakespeare Company Flag

Adirondack Shakespeare Company

By Josh Cabat

I imagine it’s a dream that many English teachers secretly harbor. You leave it all behind and join a band of players who travel from small town to small town in a beautiful and remote area, performing works by Shakespeare and others in repertory.

In some ways, it’s about as pure as it gets, and that purity came through in every wonderful, ragtag moment of the recent production of 1 Henry IV as staged by the Adirondack Shakespeare Company.

The performance was held this past August in Schroon Lake, New York, at the Art Deco-era Strand Theater (whose survival is about as miraculous as young Hal’s victory at Agincourt two plays later), and was part of a summer repertory program that included all four plays in this Henriad, as well as The Tempest (in addition to an event down the lake a bit at the old grounds of Scaroon Manor where the audience got to choose the Shakespeare play they wanted to see on the spot).

What the audience got to see at these performances was what company co-founder Tara Bradway refers to as “Shakespeare in the Raw.” In this experimental technique, all production elements are stripped down to the bare minimum, including scenery, props, costumes, and music. Bradway also noted that the company’s rehearsal process is structured in such a way that the performance we saw was the first time the cast had run through the play in its entirety.

The result is spontaneous, fresh and, for fans of the Folger, exactly what Shakespearean performance needs to be: focused almost exclusively on the interplay among the actors, the audience and those words.

As an educator, I found that there were many connections between Adirondack’s process and how we might go about teaching Shakespeare through performance. Continue Reading »

King Lear

King Lear, 1874. Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Dan Bruno

King Lear, in its embodiment of the horrors of human existence, is the black hole at the center of the Shakespearean tragic universe, drawing in any sense of light and hope and keeping it from escaping.

The big questions at the center of this play challenge us as human beings to confront a difficult truth: namely, that love is the source of Lear’s evil.

None of the deeper thinking that this post hopefully represents would have been possible without the resources the Folger Shakespeare Library offers. I arrived at the library on a Thursday morning and did some research in the library.

That night, I attended the engaging performance of King Lear put on by the Globe Theatre. The next day, I was part of a teaching workshop on the play. As you read the rest of this, consider that in a two-day period, I watched the play, researched the play, and learned about the play in a single place.

I first started my Lear thinking while I was under the streets of DC, in the stacks at the Folger, looking up and down the lengthy corridor for resources on a different project, when I came across the section on King Lear and began leafing through the books on the shelf. Continue Reading »

door knob david fulcoBy David A. Fulco

“When are we getting our costumes?”

It was the third day of my after-school program—Drama (what the kids called it)/Theater (what the school called it)/Shakespeare Troupe (what I called it)—and the kids were getting antsy.

Relying heavily on my class with Caleen Jennings during the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, I had directed my group of fourteen 7th grade girls through a host of “physicalizing” exercises over the first two days, having them work in groups to show what “Wednesday” looked like, what “Math” looked like, and what “Dismissal at 2:10” looked like.

And we were getting there—at least, when the students weren’t playing in the curtains, or hiding offstage.

But here they were on the Friday that marked the end of the first full week of school. They were in three lines of various lengths and dimensions. Much like I was this past summer at TSI 2014, they were standing in front of an easel with the words to “Oh grim-looked night” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream written in purple Sharpie. They had physicalized every word. We had practiced as a whole troupe and in small groups. And now was the big reveal. Continue Reading »

Hamlet. First Folio. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

Hamlet. First Folio. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Sara Lehn

“Stand, who is that?”
“Tis I.”

“Who’s there?”
“Nay, answer me.  Stand and unfold yourself.”

What’s the difference between the two exchanges above?  Either not much or quite a lot, depending on your perspective.  Both indicate two people looking to identify each other.  Therefore, both imply a certain level of curiosity or suspicion, as well as the likelihood that they cannot see each other very well.

Both are the opening lines of Hamlet.

The first set of lines comes from the 1603 Quarto of the play.  The second set of lines comes from the 1604 Quarto, and is the one that appears in the First Folio. The second quarto is commonly considered the more authoritative version of the play.

In talking to some of my fellow teachers, I found that, while most were aware that there are quarto and folio versions of the plays, few had considered using the differences between them as a teaching tool.  Personally, it wasn’t until my time at the 2012 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, when I was able to hear a talk by Dr. Barbara Mowat, co-editor of the Folger Editions, that I really saw the worth of these different versions in the secondary classroom.

English teachers across the United States are feeling the pressure of the Common Core and are searching out techniques and tools to address standards such as RL.11-12.4, which asks students to “determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone.”

Many students find this kind of sophisticated close reading difficult, but by providing them with two different possibilities for just a small section of the play, students are able to see how even the tiniest change in diction can affect layers of nuance in the overall impact of the lines. Continue Reading »

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