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Archive for the ‘Hamlet’ Category

Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

Drawing by John Austen for an edition of Hamlet (ART Box A933 no.2), 1890 painting by Ludovic Marchetti of Romeo and Juliet (ART Vol. f220). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Last week, we took a reader poll to ask which Shakespeare plays were being taught this semester. Top of the list (as of this writing): Romeo and Juliet, with more than 25 percent of the vote.

Macbeth took second place with 22 percent, and Hamlet third with 10 percent. Our write-in option was also quite popular, with Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing making multiple appearances.

Good news! We have a wealth of resources for teaching each of these plays. Here are a few highlights:

  • Romeo and Juliet – In December, Folger Education recorded an hour-long master class for teaching Romeo and Juliet. You can watch the archived version online, broken down into video segments on scholarship, performance, and the classroom.
  • Macbeth – Folger educators talk about surefire ways for successfully introducing students to the Scottish play in this podcast, Macbeth: The Teacher’s Edition.
  • Hamlet – Watch the Insider’s Guide to Hamlet. These videos highlight the play’s themes, characters, and plot—perfect for students encountering Hamlet for the first time.

Find more resources by downloading a curriculum guide for each of these popular plays. The guides include a brief synopsis, two lesson plans, famous quotes from the play, prompts for teachers, links to podcasts and videos, and a list of suggested additional resources.

Want even more? Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet are all included in our Shakespeare Set Free books, a series written by Folger Education’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute faculty and participants. (Today’s your last chance to apply for this year’s TSI, by the way!) Each book is packed with practical, specific ideas to use in the classroom.

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Hello once again from your friend Louis Butelli, most recently Feste in Folger Theatre’s Twelfth Night. We closed our show on June 9 after a great run: thanks to everybody who came out to see us.

I’m back at the Folger to participate in an exciting new project – immersive audio recordings of the full Folger Editions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Published by Simon & Schuster, and edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, the Folger Editions of Shakespeare are widely considered to be among the very best anywhere. In working as an actor on Shakespeare plays all over the country, I’ve found that one can always rely on there being a Folger edition in the rehearsal room. Featuring excellent notes, essays, and illustrations, they are an invaluable resource for anyone working with Shakespeare, professionals and students alike.

Now, we’re going to go to work on creating dynamic, exciting audio recordings of the full, unabridged text of the Folger Editions of selected plays. Directed by Robert Richmond, some of Folger’s favorite actors will come together to rehearse and record: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Once the actors’ voices have been recorded, Robert and the Folger team will edit for flow, add sound effects and music, and deliver a bold, sweeping version that brings the text to vibrant life.

FSL Editions 7.9.13

We’re also thrilled to announce that a smartphone app, with access to the recordings themselves and some other cool bells and whistles, will be launching very soon. It’s an exciting way to interact with Shakespeare’s plays in a variety of new ways, right on your phone, and will be a great new resource for actors, directors, teachers, and students alike. Check back here and in your e-Newsletter for updates on our progress.

We’ve actually completed work on Othello, and the full recording is already available for purchase by clicking here. Back in November of 2011, the cast of Folger Theatre’s stage production of Othello went to Airshow Mastering to record the play. Click here to read my post about that experience.

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer's Grammy Awards

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer’s Grammy Awards

Meanwhile, those who have read my posts in the past know that, when it comes to Shakespeare, I have a kind of soft spot for the clowns and fools. One of the roles I’ll be recording is Peter in Romeo & Juliet. I’ll close out this first entry about the recordings with some thoughts on him.

Appearing in only three scenes, in one of which he doesn’t speak, Peter is a personal servant to the Nurse, and is frequently cut from stage productions. Indeed, given the fact that he doesn’t have impact upon the plot, and given how little Shakespeare gives him to say in his script, one understands why Peter often faces the chopping block. However….

Peter is known to have been played originally by an actor named Will Kemp. The house clown for The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s production company), and most likely the original Dogberry, Falstaff, and others, Kemp was a popular comedian in his own right, and was probably an audience draw. Moreover, he was also known to have performed his famous “jigs” (highly improvisational song and dance routines) in the middle of Shakespeare’s plays as comic interlude during breaks in the action. For reasons unknown, Kemp left the company in 1599.

What I find fascinating about Kemp is the way he influenced Shakespeare’s text – not only with his presence, in terms of Romeo & Juliet, but with his absence, Henry V and Hamlet, for instance.

To explain: Shakespeare writes an odd stage direction in the 1599 Quarto version of Romeo & Juliet towards the end of Act IV, scene 5. This is a fairly climactic moment, following the Capulets’ discovery of their seemingly dead daughter Juliet on the morning of her wedding. The Nurse, Friar Lawrence, and County Paris, Juliet’s betrothed, are all in attendance. The scene is a huge lamentation, with the whole family shrieking and wailing, and off they go, with Lord Capulet giving an order to change the wedding celebration into a funeral.

Right on the heels of this, Shakespeare writes, “Enter Will Kemp.” While later editions correct the stage direction to “Enter Peter,” it is telling that in this very early edition, at this very moment, the author brings on his great clown – by name. What survives in the text is a fairly amusing scene between Peter and a group of musicians. By precedent, one might guess that, in performance, Kemp went off script and presented one of his “jigs,” as a “palate cleanser” before the rollercoaster ride of Act 5 began.

By 1600, Kemp had left the company. In Henry V, the much beloved character Falstaff never appears on stage and, in fact, Mistress Quickly has a touching speech reporting Falstaff’s death just offstage. In Hamlet, one might consider Hamlet’s speech offering “advice to the players:”

And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.

One spies a little ghost of Will Kemp in this “advice,” and one wonders if there isn’t a little clue as to why Kemp ultimately left the company.

In any event, for our recordings, I promise to stick directly to the script. I hope that you’ll follow along with our journey here in this space, that you’ll pick up a copy of our Othello, and that you’ll enjoy our new recordings as they become available.

OK. Thanks for reading! Until next time!

Catch up with Louis on the Folger Theatre blog!

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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.

Notably:

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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Hamlet (Michael Benz) duels Laertes (Matthew Romain); photo by Jeff Malet

After student matinees at the Folger, we’re usually able to offer a brief “talk-back” with actors from the show to discuss what the students have just seen. (We’ve discussed previous Folger Theatre talk-backs for Othello and Comedy of Errors here.) The actors of the Globe’s touring production of Hamlet, currently playing in our Theatre, were kind enough to agree to stay for some questions after this week’s student matinees, and our audiences didn’t disappoint with the great questions for them! Below is a sample of some of our favorite questions and answers (paraphrased):

Q:  Have you ever messed up in front of a live audience?

A: Did you notice?
(the student nodded and pointed to Michael Benz, who played Hamlet)
A: I was hoping you wouldn’t notice! Ah, but it does happen all the time, you’ll trip up, or miss a beat or mix up your words… but that’s the beauty of live theatre! You never know what can happen!

Q: When did you decide that Hamlet goes crazy in the play?

A: I looked to the text – it gives me little clues here and there about my actions and about my mindset. In the soliloquies, sometimes, I get to say exactly what I’m thinking or feeling, and the rhythms and words tell me where to go.

Q: Does the show change with each theatre you travel to?

A: Every new venue is a new show. We’ve performed this play together over 80 times now, but none of us are bored with it. When we were in England on the tour, it was all outdoors and we were competing with the elements to be heard and seen and to just get through the show – we’re used to that at the Globe! Here at the Folger, this is our first indoor venue, so our first night here we were still very <ROAAAR> and LOUD and I think that first night we really blew the audience away… literally. They looked like they’d been run over by a freight train by the end! Dominic [our director] told us afterwards to just bring it down.

Q: Why did you decide to use only eight actors when there are so many parts?

A: Being on tour means it’s easier for fewer people to do the traveling, and it happens a lot in Shakespeare that some actors will double or triple (or further multiply) the number of roles they have. Not every character is onstage all the time, and while it was sometimes challenging for us, we have a great time running around swapping from gravedigger to priest to courtier to player and moving the show forward.

Q: What was it like to put comic elements in a tragic play?

A: Well that’s really interesting because we didn’t. Shakespeare did. You know, there’s sometimes this whole pre-conception that the tragedies have to be very dark and tragic the whole time, but the reality is Shakespeare knew that it was only the end of the play that made it either tragic or comic. The rest was just human behavior. It also helps the tragedy land with you emotionally if you get the contrast with a lot of levity before everything bad happens. Yes, we have a very light-hearted production, but the comedy is in the text.

Thanks so much to the actors: Michael Benz, Peter Bray, Miranda Foster, Tom Lawrence, Carlyss Peer, Matthew Romain, Christopher Saul, Dickon Tyrrell; and to Charlotte Hall and the stage management team for making arrangements for us.

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Folger Theatre Production, 2010

Thanks to the efforts of Folger Theatre, the Globe’s Theatre’s production of Hamlet is currently in residence at the Folger.  The reviews have been good, and audiences are deeply engaged in the work.  This collaboration between the Folger and the Globe has prompted Folger Education to re-release four video podcasts that focus on the play, including an insider’s guide for all audiences and three others that focus on teaching the play.  The vide0s are based on Folger Theatre’s 2010 production of the play, and  were filmed by Alabama Public TV thanks to a partnership between the two institutions.  When the videos were posted to the Folger’s YouTube page, there were no lesson plans for teachers to help them make the most effective use of the videos, but that’s now been addressed.  A series of lesson plans created by English teacher, Kevin Costa, specifically designed for use with the videos, and complete with Common Core State Standards references, has made them an indispensible resource for teachers.  As Hamlet observes, “The Play’s the thing.”

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The internet is a growing teaching resource and tool, especially when approaching Shakespeare and literature. Digital Theatre projects like Such Tweet Sorrow and Much Ado About N<3thing doubled as insights into familiar characters as well as cautionary tales regarding responsibility, communication, and cyber-bullying. We’ve discussed Twitter and Facebook’s influence on student-teacher communication before, but one teacher has recently been commendably profiled for using Twitter to teach Hamlet.

As part of their Shakespeare unit, students create Twitter accounts for characters from Hamlet — from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Ophelia and Queen Gertrude — and send out tweets as they work through the acts.

“You can make the role as big as you wanted.” Barker said. “It wasn’t . . . tweeting for the sake of tweeting. It was more like a strategy to get them to focus on what was really happening in the play and to become really invested in what was happening.”

It’s not fabulous that they’re not playing with the actual language, nor are they exactly on their feet with the text - however, you can’t deny that Mrs. Barker’s students are invested in the play.

Barker gets her students to blog regularly as part of their novel studies unit. She posts discussion questions to the blogging site Ning and students have to write entries, comment on classmates’ posts and use content tags.

“It’s, like, a collective knowledge. You can look back at last year’s blog posts,” said Erin Kope, 17.

Classmate Connor Swick, 17, agrees that blogging is a great educational tool, especially for collaborating with other students.

“If it was in essay form it’s not like you could go over and read everybody’s essay. People get their ideas out and everyone can share it,’ he said.

We do a similar project with our High School Fellowship classes where each day of the course a different student is asked to blog their perspective on the lecture, discussion, rehearsal, or performance, and everyone is required to comment a certain number of times. Sometimes the discussions that blossom without our involvement are pretty spectacular.

What do you think? Is this #Shakespeare approach going to help students relate to Shakespeare better? Are we sacrificing language and performance to use it? Could they be incorporated together?

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Bob Young and I were invited to speak at the Cambridge Shakespeare Conference: Sources and Adaptations from September 9-11 at Homerton College, part of Cambridge University.

In our presentation, part of “Teaching Shakespeare in America,” we demonstrated some of the innovative approaches to teaching Shakespeare that we have developed.

Here are the other Education presentations:

  • Shakespeare’s source material: active approaches for students participatory panel session with Perry Mills, Rob Smith and Jane Coles, editors of volumes in the Cambridge School Shakespeare series. Chaired by James Stredder. 
  • Creative approaches to Shakespeare in the classroom – the use of a variety of art forms in the classroom, in order to ‘recreate’ and ‘reinterpret’ Shakespeare’s texts (based on the Platonic notion of Ekphrasis). 
  • Play out the play: Active approaches to Shakespeare with the under 12′s  - led by Sarah Gordon, Artistic Director of The Young Shakespeare Company. 
  • Teaching Shakespeare in America: theatre companies  and young audiences -the  Education Department of the Tony Award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Joan Langley & Kirsten Giroux) and RSC  Education in New York City  (Tracy Irish, Education Programme Developer, RSC) and  John S. Kuhn (PhD Graduate Student, Ohio State University). 
  • Shakespeare for non-English speaking teenagers - a workshop led by Lucia Garcia Magdali and Antonio León Sendra, University of Córdoba, Spain.
  • Shakespearean initiatives with dyslexia; Shakespeare and service-learning in prisons; and a cautionary word on the use of performance in teaching Shakespeare

Some of the other highlights of the conference were performances of “I, Caliban,” a one-monster interpretation of The Tempest, “Hamlet House of Horror,” and “Mamillius,” a sequel to The Winter’s Tale.  

In addition, plenary sessions featured Michael Rosen on Books on Shakespeare for Children, Stuart Sillars on Painting Shakespeare,  the poet Carol Ann Duffy, “We are all Shakespeare’s Children,” Trevor Nunn, Tim Supple, and Stanley Wells, “Shakespeare on Film,” and Graham Holderness on “Adapting Shakespeare’s Biography.”

We look forward to participating in the 2012 Worlds Together Shakespeare Conference in London.

World Shakespeare Festival 2012

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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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As I’ve just spent several hours in my garden doing quite an onerous task, I had this thought: Shakespeare may have avoided spending lots of time back home with Ann and the kids to avoid something that all suburban homeowners know only too well–weeding.

But he cleverly included lots of references to weeds throughout his  sonnets and plays. Here are a few:

“Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now, /Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held” Sonnet 2

“For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; /Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” Sonnet 94

“I must up-fill this osier cage of ours /With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.” Friar Laurence from Romeo and Juliet

“‘Small herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace: /And since, methinks, I would not grow so fast,  /Because sweet flowers are slow and weeds make haste.” York from Richard III

” O thou weed, who art so lovely fair and smell’st so sweet that the sense aches at thee, Would thou hadst ne’er been born. ” Othello

“He was met even now /As mad as the vex’d sea; singing aloud; /Crown’d with rank fumiter and  furrow-weeds, /With bur-docks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, /Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow /In our sustaining corn.” Cordelia from King Lear

“…do not spread the compost on the weeds, /To make them ranker.  Hamlet

“Now ’tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted; /Suffer them now, and they’ll o’ergrow the garden /And choke the herbs for want of husbandry. Queen Margaret from Henry VI part 2

Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. Iago from Othello


Then there’s this passage from Richard II:
Gardener:

Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricocks,
Which, like unruly children, make their sire
Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight:
Give some supportance to the bending twigs.
Go thou, and like an executioner,
Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,
That look too lofty in our commonwealth:
All must be even in our government.
You thus employ’d, I will go root away
The noisome weeds, which without profit suck
The soil’s fertility from wholesome flowers.

Servant:

Why should we in the compass of a pale
Keep law and form and due proportion,
Showing, as in a model, our firm estate,
When our sea-walled garden, the whole land,
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
Her fruit-trees all upturned, her hedges ruin’d,
Her knots disorder’d and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars?

And here’s Hamlet again in his famous soliloquy:

Hamlet:
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.”


And then there’s this news report which claims that our playwright may have had some added inspiration of the chemical kind.



OK, now I’ve got to get back to my “unweeded garden” because something is rotten there.


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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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