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Archive for the ‘Introducing Shakespeare’ Category

 

Justin Adams (Laertes) and Graham Michael Hamilton (Hamlet), Hamlet, directed by Joseph Haj, Folger Theatre, 2010. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Justin Adams (Laertes) and Graham Michael Hamilton (Hamlet), Hamlet, directed by Joseph Haj, Folger Theatre, 2010. Photo by Carol Pratt.

The Shakespeare’s Globe production of Hamlet is on tour–heading to every country in the world–and it’s stopping at the Folger Shakespeare Library later this month.

Therefore, we thought this would be an opportune time to revisit an invaluable teaching resource created by the Folger, the Insider’s Guide to Hamlet.

The Insider’s Guide is a multimedia experience with video clips from actors that accompany the featured lesson plans. These videos, which are based on Folger Theatre’s 2010 production of the play, highlight Hamlet‘s themes, characters, and plot–perfect for students encountering the play for the first time or those seeking a refresher course.

Here’s the video playlist for the Insider’s Guide, but visit our website to see the associated lesson plans.

What are the resources you use to teach Hamlet? Let us know in the comments.

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Harvard University professor Stephen Greenblatt knows a lot about Shakespeare. He’s the author of “Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,” and he came to the Folger Shakespeare Library this spring to participate in a research conference on “Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography.” But Greenblatt did not immediately latch on to the Bard in his student days. As he put it recently in an interview with the Harvard Gazette:

I was no child prodigy. In fact, I encountered “As You Like It” in Miss Gillespie’s eighth-grade class — and it seemed like the worst, most boring thing I ever read in my life. I can still remember the shudder with which I received the words “Sweet my coz, be merry.” I just didn’t get it at all. So it’s not like I awakened as a child to the wonders of Shakespeare.

Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt at the “Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography” conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library, April 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Later in the Q&A, we learn which Shakespeare plays Greenblatt would rather have studied in middle school, how videos can make a difference in the English classroom, and at what moment the Bard was reclaimed in Greenblatt’s imagination. (more…)

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By Kevin Costa

Whenever I begin a Shakespeare play with my students in my two-year course, The Institute for Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies at McDonogh School, I get the class working on text from just about Day One. I don’t spend a lot of time setting up with talk about Shakespeare’s life or with the history of the period — there’s plenty of time for that later, if at all.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

When I first started this course, I would choose the play we’d cover for two years, but this fall I took a different approach. My students and I looked through the Complete Works, and we read bits and pieces of plays that I thought they might like. This year, I think we may have looked at the moment in Othello where Iago helps convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful (3.3). Then we also read through the two scenes in Measure for Measure where Angelo propositions Isabella to sleep with him (2.2 & 2.4).

If you have a choice of play from which to chose, this is a compelling way to have students own their experience from the get-go. In other words, get students hooked by offering some of a play’s “greatest hits.” Once they have a taste of something they like, they’ll certainly want more since a well-chosen scene can really awaken their curiosity for the whole work.

If you don’t have a choice in play, that’s no problem at all. Here are some ideas for some of the most-taught titles.

(more…)

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As you probably know, April 23 is Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, and the Folger Education staff wants to get everyone involved in the celebration. So we are hosting a Balcony Scene Flash Mob Festival. It’s simple. It’s fun.  And it will get a lot of people speaking Shakespeare.

UNCWe hope to get groups from all across the country to take part.

So please join us! (more…)

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A while back I wrote Shakespeare in Other Words citing the reasons teachers should avoid using “No Fear” or “Made Easy” or any other parallel text edition in their classroom. Needless to say, it generated over 40 comments, including some from an author of “The Shakespeare Novels.”

But now I realize that simply dismissing those books wasn’t enough. What should teachers do, who not only find it difficult to teach the real stuff, but who may struggle with the language themselves? So here are a few suggestions:

  1. Since students can access the No Fear versions online for free, why not suggest or even encourage them to read them at home. And then read and teach the real text in class.
  2. Start with “baby steps.”
  3. Begin with a 15 Minute Play. There are eight of them on the Folger site.
  4. Pull out 30 juicy lines from the play you’ll be studying, put each line on a 3×5 note card, and give one to each student. Then they find a partner, come up with a scene using only the words on the cards, and perform the scene for the class.
  5. Instead of Made Easy texts, create a Made Shorter text. Using the Folger Digital Texts, copy a scene, paste it into a Word file, and edit it to a version that your students can handle.
  6. If you want to teach Iambic Pentameter, watch the video called Living Iambic Pentameter, but DO NOT SHOW IT TO YOUR CLASS. Instead, do your own version in class. No kid wants to watch other kids having fun.

Those are just a few ways to get past the fear and teach Shakespeare for Real. Post your comments below with other suggestions.

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That Shakespeare KidWe have teachers ask us all the time how to introduce Shakespeare’s language in a way that’s engaging to students.

One possible approach: young adult novels that weave the Bard’s words along with the kind of dialogue familiar to students.

“That Shakespeare Kid,” by Folger Education’s senior consultant Michael LoMonico, presents just this combination.

Fourteen-year-old Emma narrates the story of her friend Peter, who, after a bump to the head, finds himself able to speak only by using the words of Shakespeare.

What a pickle!

This excerpt picks up the story the day after the accident, when Emma sees Peter at the bus stop and finds his conversation much altered: (more…)

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During our first office hours on Twitter last week, we received this question:

@FolgerED How does one get buy in through the language, when it’s a language irrelevant to modern pop culture?#folgerofficehours

We needed to know more, of course . . . so the middle school teacher who had asked it clarified in a second tweet that it’s her students who feel that the language is irrelevant. “… many students may not see the connection to their lives today & I wondered how that is being addressed.”

The language buy-in is way easier than you anticipate if you remember a few things: (more…)

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~by Jessica Lander

Students giggle together during a theatre game at the 2013 Folger Secondary School Festival.

Students giggle together during a theatre game at the 2013 Folger Secondary School Festival.

On the grass behind the theater – once a fire station – two teenagers embraced each other and slow-danced.  They wore sheepish grins as they took each other’s hands, swaying and revolving to the music.  Iron & Wine and Graffiti6 and Elliot Smith floated from my portable speakers.  Curious dog walkers with waddling pugs and sweaty joggers threw sidelong glances.

It was week four, opening day, only hours before curtain.  Our Romeo and our Juliet were nervous.  Would their performance be believable?

The three of us met behind the theater to explore the act of falling in love.   The two teenagers began by locking eyes, standing quiet for twenty minutes without once letting their glances dart sideways.  Most students would feel too awkward to dance along the streets of Charlestown.  But these two seventeen-year-old actors were willing to try.

In theater such willingness is called “saying yes.”

Saying yes is the number one rule of improv.  If your improv partner says: “That soup you’re eating looks delicious!” and you respond, “I’m not eating soup,” the skit falls flat.   In our converted black box theater saying yes became the first rule and promise of our ensemble.

Last summer, as a teaching artist for Actors Shakespeare Project, my July crackled with witches and Scottish thanes.  This year we – ten students and four teachers – took up residence in the bloody streets of Verona.   Our students were a demographic chart of the Boston area. Our ensemble came from the suburbs and from the heart of the city; from public schools, from exams schools and from private schools.  Some had previously lived in youth detention centers.  Some had years of acting experience in camps and school plays and some came with no formal theatrical training.  What set them apart from their peers was that these ten teenagers were willing, even eager, to say yes.

Saying yes can be challenging in any setting, particularly in the confines of a traditional school classroom.  Raising your hand, offering up the answer to a math problem, sharing a poem, proposing a hypothesis – they all open you to vulnerability.  I have had 6th graders and college students of mine say no.  I have had students as far as Thailand and Cambodia and as close as Charlestown say no.  School textbooks and tests are lined with “right” and “wrong” answers and school halls are varnished in peer pressure and the shine of social status.

The black box exists outside this norm.

Over the course of four weeks I watched as ten teenagers chose instead to just say yes.

They said yes to playing improv games that required them to squirm like jello and row furiously like Viking warriors.

They said yes to walking and running and crawling through our theater to explore the space.

Two young men said yes to locking hands and attempting to push each other across a room while yelling their lines and furrowing their brows.

One young woman said yes to chortling like an old man with a beer belly and then cooing like a baby girl.

Everyone said yes to playing games of Mafia every day (four weeks straight) during lunch, holding heated debates and flinging accusations, in each subsequent game, about who might be suspect.

One young man said yes to swinging his arms in the air for an entire monologue.  Another young woman said yes to trying not to smile (a real feat for her).

In four weeks our students said yes to dancing in the rain, to singing, to arguing about character backstories, to fake punching each other in the nose, to sharing painful stories, to laughing out loud and crying out loud.

It is not easy saying yes.  You need three things.  You need peers that won’t snicker, you need teachers who won’t seek “correct” answers, and you need a space wide open to allow students to spin and floors strong enough to encourage students to leap.

And if you are lucky enough for such a convergence, then Romeo and Juliet waltz in a park, while dog walkers stare and at least one teacher smiles.

What can you and your students say YES to? Let us know in the comments!

Jessica Lander is a teacher and writer in Cambridge, MA.  She has taught, among other things, Shakespeare and critical thinking to college students in the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh and the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Closer to home she has taught math and Shakespeare to 6th graders in the Boston inner city.  She has written for the Boston Globe Magazine and keeps an education blog, Chalk Dust: http://jessicalander.blogspot.com

 

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Teacher to Teacher Title Screen - Getting Started

For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a feature on one of our favorite online resources: our Teacher to Teacher videos! In these short clips, teachers share their favorite Shakespeare plays, ideas for teaching, and resources for the modern classroom. This week, let’s start generally with ideas for introducing your students to Shakespeare.

First things first: we know that the language can be a big hurdle for many students on Day 1. In this video, Joe Scotese describes how getting students on their feet to find the action in the words builds their confidence for the days to come. You can teach Joe’s own Tempest in the Lunchroom to try it out!

But where to begin? Leslie Kelly tells us that we don’t have to start with the opening lines of the play – instead, why not start with the characters’ deaths? Having fun with an overly-dramatic death scene will give them more ownership over performing the language, and give them a sense of play. Teach Leslie’s ESL/ELL-friendly Famous Death Lines.

Finally, are you stuck teaching only one play? Scott O’Neil gives his arguments for incorporating speeches from all over the canon into any unit. Not only will learning the speeches familiarize students with the language, they might never be exposed to certain plays, otherwise! Scott’s already compiled his favorite speeches from King Lear for his class. What speeches would you use?

 

What’s your favorite way to introduce Shakespeare? Tell us about your Day 1 experiences in the classroom in the comments below!

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Yesterday I stumbled upon this video from Australia’s ABC in 2011 about Shakespeare and his hip relevance to today’s audience. Excited, I started the video, and felt my face twist into a confused squint.

AU Shakespeare in Schools

A lot of their statements are great! Shakespeare was a great writer. His plays have survived for centuries. His language can be difficult because it’s very stylized, and once you “click in” it rolls more easily. However, they sort of veer off the point when they’re talking about these things for a modern audience. The stories are a part of what keeps Shakespeare alive, but the stories were all (or mostly) taken from other sources. Shakespeare’s language has survived, as well. It’s not just because we can make Romeo “emo” that we relate to the characters today, it’s because they are saying things that we think and feel as well.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abridged] is a really fantastic show, but it – on its own – is not “Shakespeare.” I do love that show, and it adds an element of fun that students would respond to – but it’s not the only way to make Shakespeare fun!

What do you think? Why do you think Shakespeare is relevant, and how do your students find connections to his plays?

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