Archive for the ‘Richard III’ Category

Until earlier this fall, I was clearly the one in love with words, literature, classrooms, teachers’ lounges, theatre.  Math and science not so much.  OK, so my grade in Biology as a college freshman was D.  Not so interested in photosynthesis. Still not the least bit interested in photosynthesis, but now I am crazily interested in archaeology and genetics.  I still am in love with words, literature, theatre, and classrooms.

But my world has gotten a lot wider and more wonderful.  And I have been brought to this place by the divinely cramped up and misshapen corpse of that devilish king, Richard III.

In August 2012, the University of Leicester (in central England) began one of the most ambitious archaeological projects ever attempted:  a search for the lost grave of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle.

Image Credit: University of Leicester

Image Credit: University of Leicester

Here at the Folger, we have just had the great honor and huge pleasure of hosting Dr. Turi King and Dr. Mathew Morris, the geneticist and archaeologist who respectively made the DNA match and led the dig.

Their story is thrilling—intense, historical, modern, gut hunches, scientific data. It’s also a story about smart people doing smart, smart work against the odds. Turi says that at the beginning, it was a little like a missing person’s story: King Richard is missing and we’re putting together all that is known now, so we can go off to find him. She also says that, at the outset, they felt their chances of finding him were past slim.

Their sense that Richard was buried in Leicester’s Grey Friars Friary was strong, even though the story for centuries in Leicester was that, after his death in Bosworth Field, his body was thrown into the River Soar. So they figured if they found the Friary and located some of its different parts, they would have done well.

Incredibly, Mathew’s excavation uncovered Grey Friars and a battle-scarred skeleton with a pronounced spinal curvature.  Turi took over the long-odds job of working out the DNA possibilities. She worked with genealogists to find possible living matches;  they located two descendants of Richard’s sister, Anne of York. She compared mitochondrial DNA extracted from the skeleton with theirs . . . and she was able to prove that the skeleton was indeed that of Richard III.

Image Credit: University of Leicester

Image Credit: University of Leicester

Learn more about all of this amazing stuff at https://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/. And share it with your history-teaching and science-teaching colleagues.

1485 meets CSI! Hard science meets the clearly hasty—“minimally reverent” as Mathew says—burial of an unpopular king.  Shakespeare meets history.  Popular colloquial history meets scientific fact.

Science class meets history class meets English class! Now we’re talkin’!

Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger or send her an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

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Lots of buzz around the Folger these days because Janet Griffin, Artistic Producer of the Folger Theatre, and Robert Richmond, director of our upcoming production of Richard III, are taking a walk on the wild side.

You know about the theatre here, right?  Background in case you don’t:  Folks here sometimes call the Folger Theatre “an evocation of an Elizabethan theatre”… not a model of any one in particular but with features like galleries and an inner above that make you think of the Globe.

It’s a sweet little 250-seat theatre tucked right inside the Library building.  Janet and her team produce three or four award-winning plays a year, and if you haven’t seen a play here, put us on your New Year’s resolution list right this minute.

So how do we get from an Elizabethan theatre to the wild side?

Even though the set can look different depending on the play, the Folger Theatre has always, always looked like this:

FSL Interior: Folger Theatre View C

EXCEPT when Richard III opens next week, the theatre will look like this:


We’ve taken out all of the orchestra seats, built a platform stage in that newly available space, and put new seats on what has been the stage since it was built in 1932.

Wild side: for the first time ever, theatre in the round at the Folger.  (Below the platform stage, there are multiple traps and a trolley… a lot of bodies falling and ultimately rising in this play.)

The whole theatre in the round idea is anything but new… but it’s new here.  And I am fairly crazed about it because it’s that fabulous kind of change that forces us to abandon all of our assumptions and to begin to perceive differently.

Actors, audience, director, tech crews all have had to, or will have to, jettison all their previous ideas about that space and start anew.  Audience members will be much closer to the actors, and the actors must work in a 360-degree universe.

And that’s just for starters. To me—a future audience member—it feels risky and exciting, intimate and all about discovery.

So what does this have to do with teachers?  A few key things:

  • We’re eager to see how our actors do here, but really . . . teachers are always working in the round.  This close, intense kind of work where real learning happens. . . you do it all day every day.  You are working in the round always, and without a net.  Impressive.
  • Changing up the physical set-up in your classroom can be just as exciting as what’s happening at the Folger Theatre.  Encouraging new perspectives, and burying worn out assumptions.  (It’s worth thinking about, even though you might have to treat the teacher who shares your classroom to a dinner out.) Check out teacher Jennie Magiera’s perspective in Ed Week’s Teaching Ahead blog.
  • Overall, it reminds us about the huge importance of risk.  OK, so as teachers, we are all challenged with required tasks that threaten to sap our energy and innovation chops.  But if we stop taking risks, we open the door to losing our edge.  And that’s unthinkable.  For you or your students.

I’ll keep you posted on how the Folger Theatre’s big risk turns out.  Or better yet, come and see for yourself.  Click here to see a time-lapsed video of the Theatre’s transformation.

Most important: in the comment box, share a one-sentence description of the last risk that you took in your classroom. We can inspire one another this way, and none of us are ever beyond the need for inspiration.

Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger or send her an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

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Shakespeare’s England was not overseen by a democratic government. Monarchs ruled for life, and successors were chosen based on royal bloodlines or who won which war. Despite this, Shakespeare knew that the public’s perception of a monarch went a long way towards the success of their reign. He gave his characters the power of language to persuade and control others. Many of his characters are gifted rhetoricians – they use language and the power of their words to bring other people around to their side.


Mark Antony – uses the power of rhetoric to turn a huge Roman mob against Brutus and Cassius.

Henry V – uses the power of speech to boost his small English army’s morale as they seige France’s much larger forces.

Richard III – uses the power of words to manipulate his court and to become king.

Iago – uses the power of language to manipulate Othello’s view of his wife and lieutenant Cassio.

Hamlet – uses the power of words to turn right and wrong actions around in his head until he decides what to do.

It’s interesting to see, too, how the Roman elections look in Shakespeare’s plays. Brother is pitted against brother in Act 1 Scene 1 of Titus Andronicus to win the seat of emperor  Coriolanus spends the first half of his play looking to win the popular vote after proving himself in war, and the people’s vote elects the Triumvirate of Marc Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus in the war against Brutus and Cassius following Julius Caesar’s death.

The election lights usually fall on the person best able to win the people with their words in these situations. (Though the people technically elected Titus after his success in war against the Goths and he puts in a good word for the former emperor’s eldest son Saturninus instead of taking seat himself.)

We’ve been sharing lesson plans on the power of persuasive speech on our shiny new Facebook Page today to explore these characters’ impact on popular and singular opinion. As a democratic nation, today eligible voters are using their individual voices to collectively elect the nation’s leader for the next four years. Were we won by words, words, words? How do our nation’s leaders compare to Shakespeare’s (both historical and literary)?

Comment below, or Like us on Facebook to tell us more!

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Image from Shakespeare’s Globe

As I mentioned in my post, “Oh, to Be in England” on May 3,  Shakespeare’s Globe is presenting a marathon of 37 plays with acting companies from around the world. But if you can’t get to the Globe to Globe Festival, there is now an alternative. A UK site called The Space is running  full-length videos of them for free. And the best part is, you don’t need to stand in the cold and rain as the audiences seem to be in these videos.

Here are the ones available at this posting:

Image from The Space

  • Twelfth Night by Mumbai’s Company Theatre is a colorful and musical version, filled with dancing, performed in Hindi with scene descriptions in English. Lyn Gardner in London’s Guardian wrote, “The beguiling, melancholy heart of the play is ignored in favour of non-stop jokes. Fun? Definitely. Accessible? Completely, even if you didn’t speak the language.”

Image from The Space

  • Measure for Measure is performed in Russian (with English subtitles) by Moscow’s Vakhtangov Theatre. Critic Veronica Lee said of this production in The Arts Desk, “What a joy this once-in-a-generation season is. From Moscow comes this free-wheeling production of Shakespeare’s great morality play.”

Image from The Space

  • Pericles is performed in Greek with scene description in English. “Thanks to a slapstick production courtesy of the National Theatre of Greece, and the Globe’s ambiance (helped by the fact that the rain stayed off), better than you might imagine – not least because London’s Hellenic community seemed to be out in force to watch it,” wrote Alex Needham in The Guardian.

Image from The Space

  • Venus and Adonis is performed in a variety of languages by the Isango ensemble from Cape Town, South Africa. Spoken in IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, SeSotho, Setswana, Afrikaans & South African English, the production is musically and visually thrilling. While this is not a play but a narrative poem, it counts as number 38 for the Globe.

Image from The Space

  • Richard III is  performed in Mandarin (with scene descriptions in English) by the National Theatre of China. According to the Year of Shakespeare Blog, “the production was preceded by Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s Artistic Director, announcing that all of the production’s equipment was in a shipping container stranded somewhere between Beijing and London.  The costumes and props we were about to see, he explained, had been cobbled together at the last minute from the Globe’s stores.”

Image from The Space

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performed in Korean (with scene description in English) by the Yohangza Theatre Company. According to Adele Lee, “Performed in a mixture of Korean theatre styles, including song, dance, mime, acrobatics and martial arts, the production was vibrant, energetic and immensely enjoyable, and the cast did a great job of overcoming the language barrier and forming an excellent rapport with the predominantly English-language speaking audience. “

So far that’s all the videos that The Space has posted, but if you want to see the rest of the Globe’s season, keep checking it out. And if you do watch any of these full-length productions, be sure to add your comments below.

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Very often, it is not necessary to teach the history behind Shakespeare’s plays to enjoy them in the classroom. It is merely enough to speak the words, explore the text, and get to know the characters.

If possible, however, the influence of monarchs on Shakespeare’s plays can be just as interesting.

How is Macbeth a dramatization of the Gunpowder Plot? Why was a certain scene in Richard II banned from performance? Why did the play Henry VIII end with praise for baby Elizabeth and not a beheading? Why do we now remember Richard III as a hunchbacked murderer?

And why, for goodness sake,  did he write Merry Wives of Windsor?

Because the royals requested it.

Last night I saw a performance from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival of Bill Cain’s highly acclaimed Equivocation, which – through fiction – explores the dangerous but necessary link between politics and art, and how they each influence each other. I left with my head buzzing around things I’d never considered about the two. Their study materials were a very interesting read (if a bit high-scholarly).

If the means are available, consider the history behind the plays’ performances. What was the political state at the time? Who was on the throne? Who had caused a scandal at court? What was happening in London (or made world news) at that time? Elizabeth I and James I both had a noticeable influence on what Shakespeare wrote about, and how his plays were received.

I would love to hear if anyone’s done a student project on anything like this before – and what was gleaned from it. Or perhaps it could be fun for the few students left in your classrooms the day before Thanksgiving to read up on the history around the play you’re studying this semester and create a timeline or parallel guide to the fact and the fiction. Has anyone done any lessons on these links before, or plan to?

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This video was making the rounds a couple of weeks ago, and I finally had a chance to see it. Impressionist/Comedian Jim Meskin performs Clarence’s speech from Richard III (I.iv) as well-known celebrities and characters:

What I especially appreciate about his performance is that Meskin chose which voices to use based on the content of the line and how well it would relate to the character.

Meanwhile, in London, music artists Super Master Raver and Killa Kela collaborated on a piece inspired by the devastation of the recent London riots, but used Hamlet’s “What a piece of a work is man,” speech (II.ii) to illustrate their discontent with the violence:

It’s not so hard to apply Shakespeare’s words to our own lives: a soliloquy can capture our soul when we have no words for what is happening, a voice can speak to us across centuries with new and different meanings!

Have you seen, or used, Shakespeare in application to today’s news or experiences? How could students use celebrity references, music, or world news to relate to Shakespeare?

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~by Conor McCreery

I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking: FINALLY! Finally someone has put together a medium and a creative genius that work together even better than chocolate and peanut butter.

 No, I’m not kidding.

Issue #7, Page 10* Feste takes a bow

Shakespeare was always meant to be seen. His plays have a special mix of magic and kineticism. What better medium for that than the larger-than-life world of comics?  And, of course, there is the Bard’s language – also a GREAT match for comics (what seven-year old but a comics reader knows the word “nemesis”?).

 Now, it was never our plan for Kill Shakespeare to be a teacher’s aide.  We just wanted to tell a rollicking adventure that passed on our love for the Bard (developed in high-school) in a fresh new way.

 But after the umpteenth teacher approached us we realized that Kill Shakespeare makes a lot of sense for educators.

 Why not use the graphic novel as a way to introduce students to some Shakespearean tropes – love, lust, double-crossing, cross-dressing, prophesies, menacing daggers, motley fools, and more? It’s all here for students to see that Shakespeare is FAR from the “stuffy, dead guy” their older brothers and sisters have warned them about.

 As for your older students? Let them play “spot the reference”; Anthony and I dug through our favourite plays and have sprinkled as many allusions as we could throughout the story. Sometimes it’s a sight gag, sometimes it’s a speech that echoes a more famous Shakespearean one, and sometimes…  

Issue 4, Page 6* Juliet the Rebel "our voice is in our swords..."

 … well sometimes we just heisted an entire line off the Bard and gave it to a completely new character.

 So, while we would never claim that Kill Shakespeare IS Shakespeare – the Bard’s gift for words so far exceeds our own – we do think it is a heck of a lot of fun for both devotees of “Shakey” (as we like to call him) as well as for students or adults who have only a passing familiarity with his genius.

Conor McCreery is a Co-Creator of the popular graphic novel, Kill Shakespeare. Conor has served in both creative and business positions for film and television companies, contributed over 1,000 stories and articles for media outlets and also provided expert analysis for Canada’s Business News Network.

*artwork by Andy B., colour by Ian Herring.

Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery will be speaking about Kill Shakespeare at the Folger on February 15 at 7:30pm.
Issues #3-#8 are available for sale from the Folger Shop.

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~by Anthony Del Col

The best Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen was also the worst.

A friend of mine was doing a community theatre production of Titus Andronicus years ago and it was quite bad (with the exception of my friend, who may be reading this… oops!).  Bad acting, directing, sets, costumes and props (a papier-mâché head that looked like it was made by the director’s son – who was in kindergarten).  Yet I left the theatre inspired and dazzled.

Why?  Because it was at that moment that I realized how great Shakespeare’s stories were.  I tried to look past – ignore, really – all of the bad elements of this production to focus on the characters – and they were remarkable.

Issue #5, Page 1* Othello looms over Iago

This is what we’re trying to do with Kill Shakespeare.  No, not make a bad version of Shakespeare but rather create a product and story that will allow us to shine a spotlight on these fantastic characters.  And we do so by putting them into a new scenario where they co-exist with the Bard’s characters from other plays.

 So often it’s difficult to people to get past the language and other surfaces of Shakespeare’s plays.  We’re using a combination of modern-day and Elizabethan English to eliminate that barrier get people into our characters quicker.  Yes, some scholars have objected to this strategy but many have loved it.  The best reviews we have received are those that state that reading our series has made them pick up their Shakespeare texts for the first time in decades.

Issue #5, Page 7* a fireside chat between Falstaff and Juliet

Why?  Because they realize how funny actually Falstaff is, how stubborn Juliet is, and how convincing and determined Iago and Lady Macbeth can be.  These are some of the greatest characters ever created, and we relish the opportunity to present them in a new, exciting and stimulating way.

Now I wonder if there will be a community theatre production of Kill Shakespeare one day…?

Anthony Del Col is a Co-Creator of the popular graphic novel Kill Shakespeare. Anthony has worked in the music, film and television industries, produced two independent feature films and most recently assisted with the management of international pop star Nelly Furtado and her world tour.

*artwork by Andy B., colour by Ian Herring.

Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery will be speaking about Kill Shakespeare at the Folger on February 15 at 7:30pm.
Issues #3-#8 are available for sale from the Folger Shop.

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Hamlet: "I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!"

Shakespeare wrote some pretty scary stuff. Besides the chilling Witches in Macbeth, he wrote in several roles for ghosts. We’re familiar with the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, which appears and re-appears to spur Hamlet onto revenge (and may have been played by Shakespeare himself when the play was produced by his company).

There is also the ghost of Julius Caeasar, which returns to haunt Brutus on the eve of battle at Phillipi, portending that Brutus will not survive (IV.iii). Similarly, Richard III is haunted by the ghosts of those he has had killed for his crown, and they tell him to “despair and die” while encouraging Richmond to “live and flourish” (V.iii).

Ghost of Caesar: "thou shalt see me at Philippi"

What would Shakespeare’s audience have thought about the presence of ghosts? Here is an excerpt from our study guide for Hamlet about that:

“There were many common beliefs about the nature of spirits that would have shaped the ideas Shakespeare’s audience held towards the ghost.  The Protestants believed that there was no such thing as Purgatory and that once a human passed from life to death, they went immediately to heaven or hell, never to leave once they were there.  Therefore, since a ghost could not be a human, it could only be a good or evil spirit – an angel or, more likely, a demon who takes on human qualities in order to tempt the living.  While the Catholics would have agreed that a true spirit of the departed could not come back to earth by their own free will, they did believe that such a miracle could occur if God willed it to be so.  In that rare case, the consequences would be great to not heed the message the spirit brought.  If none of the above were true, the only other option was that the “ghost” was merely a hallucination of an unstable mind. “

Richard: What do I fear? myself? there's none else by:

It is interesting to note that most or all of these invocations and visitations take place on the eve of battle. ghosts appear to prepare (or shake) the battle’s leader. If the ghosts are a figment of an unstable mind, what does that say about the characters they appear to? If they are demons or angels or miracles, how does that change the way the story is interpreted?

If that’s not enough Halloween for you, try on these Shakespearean Costume ideas from Shakespeare Geek.

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