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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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. (more…)
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By Deborah Gascon
It’s September and the weather is cooling down, but your students’ love for Shakespeare is warming up, right? Okay, maybe not love like, “will you go to the homecoming dance with me?” love, but maybe a lukewarm shyness sort of love? Your students aren’t ready to dance with Shakespeare, but definitely have been making eye contact and passing notes in class (or sending iMessages for you techie-teachers?).
My new batch of students haven’t experienced too much Shakespeare yet, but I have been dotting my daily lessons with a little bit of Shakespeare and performance-based instruction. By prom, they’ll all be asking their new love Super-Shakes to be their date.
Let me tell you about a quick and easy way to include the Folger’s approach to performance-based learning in our daily classroom lives. (more…)
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Zach Appelman (Henry V) in Henry V, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2013. Photo by Scott Suchman.
By Kevin J. Costa
This past June, I attended the Michael Chekhov Association’s annual International Conference and Workshop in New London, CT. MICHA is an international organization that offers, among other things, intensive actor training each summer for people interested in Chekhov’s psycho-physical approach to the art of acting.
While Chekhov’s approach owes considerable debt to the theories of Constantin Stanislavski — as just about all approaches do from the 20th and 21st centuries — Chekhov’s crucial innovation was to explore the necessary link between outer, physical training of the body and its ability to develop a rich inner-life for the actor.
At the center of all this work is the notion of “the gesture” (most importantly, what Chekhov called the “Psychological Gesture”) and what work on gesture can allow us to discover as artistic possibilities in ourselves.
This got me thinking, of course, to the often physical approach Folger Education encourages teachers and students to practice when studying Shakespeare. Whether creating frozen pictures, embodying images with movement, or putting on whole scenes, students around the world who study Shakespeare through performance and through kinesthetic means have an awful lot in common with Michael Chekhov’s students.
And they also discover, quite readily, that it leads to compelling intellectual discoveries about complex texts. Why, then, is physical engagement with text important — important beyond merely giving lip-service to the fact that these are plays? (more…)
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As you may have guessed, we never get tired of reading about the creative ways teachers are using performance-based learning techniques to teach Shakespeare.
Sarah Goodis-Orenstein, a middle school language arts teacher and department head in a public charter school in Brooklyn, recently shared in a blog post on Education Week how she’s experimented with the Folger’s Shakespeare Set Free curriculum in her classroom.
Goodis-Orenstein, who assigned her students to reinterpret scenes from Romeo and Juliet and act them out, walks the reader through each step of the assessment process and the rationale behind it.
In the end, this prompt-book project was tremendously rewarding for both myself and my students. When embarking upon this project, I had some reservations. I’m not a terribly performative person, myself, and I know I would have resented this assignment as a middle schooler. I also know that performances are often scoffed at as the low man on the totem pole of rigor.
But this project was no fluff. And it was fun.
She finishes the blog post with this gem:
…the best assessments are about creativity and application, not regurgitation or formulaic writing. It also doesn’t hurt to be reminded now and then that getting out of one’s comfort zone can lead to great things—for both students and teachers.
Read more at Education Week.
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The Folger has just added Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems to Folger Digital Texts, which means that the complete works of Shakespeare as edited by the Folger Shakespeare Library are now available online for free. (Bonanza for teachers!)
Alberto Sangorski. Songs and Sonnets by William Shakespeare. Manuscript, 1926. Folger Shakespeare Library.
Using Folger Digital Texts, you can read and search the sonnets, Lucrece, The Phoenix and the Turtle, and Venus and Adonis. It’s the same familiar text as the one that appears in the Folger Editions, so you can be confident that everything’s been vetted by the experts.
Do you need some ideas for teaching the sonnets? You can find a variety of lesson plans on the Folger website.
As for the other three poems, here’s some good contextual material to rely on:
Shakespeare’s long poem Lucrece takes place as Rome becomes a republic. As a minor epic (a popular genre in Shakespeare’s time), it centers on figures of seemingly secondary importance: Sextus Tarquinius, the king’s son, and Lucrece, the wife of his friend. (Read more)
The Phoenix and the Turtle
The poem by Shakespeare now known as “The Phoenix and Turtle,” or “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” was first printed with no title; it was one of several additional poems in the 1601 publication of a long poem by Robert Chester. In the classical tradition, the mythical phoenix consumes itself in fire, from the ashes of which another phoenix is born. In Shakespeare’s poem, the phoenix is female and the turtle (that is, a turtledove) is male. (Read more)
Venus and Adonis
With Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare launched his career as a poet. The poem is a minor epic, a genre that many poets in the 1590s chose for their first efforts. Characters in a minor epic usually come from the periphery of myth or legend; its interest is in eroticism, sophistication, and wit. Within this genre, Venus and Adonis was so successful that it was Shakespeare’s most popular published work throughout his lifetime. (Read more)
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Guest post by Deborah Gascon
Eighteen years ago, days before my first year teaching began, my principal gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard about the first day of school. She simply said, “Make the students want to come back.” She told me to forget the syllabus and classroom procedures—the students won’t retain those rules and did I really want my first impression to be about how to ask for the bathroom pass?
As suggested, I followed through with my hopefully-memorable plans on that first day. When I ate dinner that night (in my pjs because I was so exhausted!) I had visions of my eighth graders at their dinner tables telling their families about their invigorating English class. I’m still not sure if that happened, but they all came back the next day with smiles on their faces and eager to learn. They were optimistic. And so was I.
With that advice in mind, on the first day of school for the past two years I’ve incorporated Folger performance methods in my lesson plans. What a difference this has made. No longer were my sleepy seniors glaring at me (and the clock) and no longer were my freshmen struggling to sit still in a desk after a summer of hyperactivity. Instead, students were on their feet, participating and laughing (and learning!).
Here are some quick methods to get the students up on their feet and loving the first day (and every day after!) in your classroom:
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