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Have you seen the Pop Sonnets tumblr?

It’s a simple yet ingenious formula: taking lyrics from popular songs and rewriting them in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. The creativity on display here is delightful.

Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” receives this final couplet: “If truly you did wish to win my hand, you should have graced it with a wedding band.” Elsewhere, the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” opens with “From western Philadelphia I hail, where in my youth I’d play upon the green”.

If you’re having difficulty getting students to take an interest in Shakespeare’s sonnets, maybe this could be a good way to capture their attention.

After all, as The Huffington Post excitedly puts it…

We’ve got lesson plans for teaching the sonnets and a great resource in Folger Digital Texts that you can use, but for more on that, you should read a blog post that we published in August.

And if you really want to have an awesomely nerdy moment, this blog post insightfully points out how the distinctive typography of Pop Sonnets helps achieve an “old-timey” feel.

 

Why do we make such a big deal about performance-based learning?

We at the Folger strongly believe that Shakespeare is for everyone and that speaking the Bard’s words for yourself is essential to gaining an understanding of and appreciation for Shakespeare’s plays.

Lenny Henry, the British comedian turned acclaimed actor, recently shared his turn-around experience with Shakespeare, in an interview with The Telegraph:

What came next was a Radio 4 documentary series called What’s So Great About…? The first was on Shakespeare. “I had a real allergy to Shakespeare. I wasn’t really taught it at school properly and thought it was very much the reserve of middle-class white people with tights and a cabbage down the front. So I was very frightened of it. Everybody we interviewed on that show, Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Adrian Lester, Judi Dench, said, ‘You should try it. Don’t slag it off if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Get some of the words in your mouth and then you’ll understand why we all love Shakespeare so much.’”

Henry delivered 20 lines of Othello’s last speech for the documentary and he was hooked. “It gave me the feeling that I could do it. It’s almost like I had my head put on straight for me. ‘This is what it’s about, it’s a serious thing, take it seriously, learn your lines, do some research.’ So the rehearsal process was brutal and I was reading that play for months and months before we did it.” And it was a success.

Henry went from thinking Shakespeare was not for him, to going on to perform in The Comedy of Errors at the Royal National Theatre in London.

What a testament to the power of speaking – not just reading – Shakespeare.

How are your students engaging with Shakespeare this school year? Tell us in the comments.

Shakespeare Unlimited

What happens when Shakespeare’s work is translated into foreign languages? Is it still Shakespeare? Or does something fundamental to the original evaporate in the process?

“Bless Thee! Thou Art Translated,” a podcast in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Unlimited series, raises these thought-provoking questions.

A translator can retain the story, characters, and ideas of a play, but the intricate wordplay proves much more difficult. For one thing, it’s impossible to translate Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter into a language like Korean, in which poetry is based on syllable counts, not stresses. And what is to be done with those well-crafted puns?

However, translation also opens up possibilities for new depths of meaning, as the familiar recedes and a different perspective takes over.

Sound interesting? Go ahead – take a short break from back-to-school prep and listen to this delightful podcast.

Do you have any of your own stories to share about encountering Shakespeare in a different language or culture? Tell us in the comments.

By Dana Huff

In order to help students develop close reading skills, we teach them how to annotate.

Annotation has traditionally been thought of as a pencil-and-paper activity, but e-readers, such as Kindle and iBooks, have great annotation tools. However, website annotation has been more of a challenge for students since browsers don’t typically include the same kinds of annotation tools as e-readers do.

Continue Reading »

Zach Appelman (Henry V), Henry V, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2013. Scott Suchman.

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? Continue Reading »

 

Yes, it’s that time again for teachers all across the country. So here are some things Shakespeare says about school and learning and teachers.

Learning:

O Lord, I could have stay’d here all the night
To hear good counsel: O, what learning is! Romeo and Juliet: 3.3

O this learning, what a thing it is! The Taming of the Shrew: 1.2

Learning is but an adjunct to ourself.  Love’s Labour’s Lost: 4.3

Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies. The Taming of the Shrew: 1.1

Study:

Where did you study all this goodly speech? The Taming of the Shrew: 2.1

You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which
I would set down and insert in’t, could you not?  Hamlet: 2.2

Give it me, for I am slow of study. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: 1.2

Alas, I took great pains to study it, and ’tis poetical. Twelfth Night: 1.5

Continue Reading »

Shakespeare_Set_FreeAs 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.

Her conclusion:

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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