~by Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
On Tuesday I shared a Folger-favorite activity where students create the theatre-going experience of an Elizabethan crowd to see why Shakespeare’s plays had to be so arresting. To continue the experience of bringing words to life, I encourage students to be up, moving around, playing with the language and the motions. Having them imagine what it means to be Iago or Othello.
As an example, here’s a fantastic passage to have students play with:
Iago: Ha, I like not that.
Othello: What dost thou say?
Iago: Nothing, my lord, or if—I know not what.
Othello: Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?
Iago: Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it
That he would steal away so guiltylike,
Seeing your coming.
Othello: I do believe ‘twas he.
Have students read these lines, which are easy to understand, aloud to each other. Are there hidden meanings? How can students use their voices and their bodies to make the lines “say” more? Iago doesn’t come out and say anything much—why is this exchange so powerful in his grand scheme?
Another fun scene for movement takes place between Emilia and Iago later in the play:
Emilia: …What will you give me now
For the same handkerchief?
Iago: What handkerchief?
Emilia: What handkerchief?
Why, that the Moor first gave to Desdemona;
That which so often you did bid me steal.
Iago: Hast stol’n it from her?
Emilia: No, ‘faith; she let it drop by negligence.
And, to the advantage, I, being here, took’t up.
Look, here it is.
Iago: A good wench; give it me.
Emilia: What will you do with ‘t, that you have been so earnest
To have me filch it?
Iago: Why, what’s that to you?
Emilia: If it be not for some purpose of import,
Give’t me again: poor lady, she’ll run mad
When she shall lack it.
Iago: Be not acknown on ‘t; I have use for it.
Go, leave me.
Students already understand the concept of the game “keep-away,” which lends itself well to this exchange on both sides. How does it motivate either character?
As students have opportunities for performance-based learning, they are able to gain an understanding of the language and the plot because the story becomes real.
What other exercises have you used to help students experience Shakespeare and bring the text to life?
Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger is the Docent Liason for Folger Education, and a published writer for Calliope magazine.