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King Lear

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. Continue Reading »

door knob david fulcoBy David A. Fulco

“When are we getting our costumes?”

It was the third day of my after-school program—Drama (what the kids called it)/Theater (what the school called it)/Shakespeare Troupe (what I called it)—and the kids were getting antsy.

Relying heavily on my class with Caleen Jennings during the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, I had directed my group of fourteen 7th grade girls through a host of “physicalizing” exercises over the first two days, having them work in groups to show what “Wednesday” looked like, what “Math” looked like, and what “Dismissal at 2:10” looked like.

And we were getting there—at least, when the students weren’t playing in the curtains, or hiding offstage.

But here they were on the Friday that marked the end of the first full week of school. They were in three lines of various lengths and dimensions. Much like I was this past summer at TSI 2014, they were standing in front of an easel with the words to “Oh grim-looked night” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream written in purple Sharpie. They had physicalized every word. We had practiced as a whole troupe and in small groups. And now was the big reveal. Continue Reading »

Hamlet. First Folio. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

Hamlet. First Folio. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Sara Lehn

“Stand, who is that?”
“Tis I.”

“Who’s there?”
“Nay, answer me.  Stand and unfold yourself.”

What’s the difference between the two exchanges above?  Either not much or quite a lot, depending on your perspective.  Both indicate two people looking to identify each other.  Therefore, both imply a certain level of curiosity or suspicion, as well as the likelihood that they cannot see each other very well.

Both are the opening lines of Hamlet.

The first set of lines comes from the 1603 Quarto of the play.  The second set of lines comes from the 1604 Quarto, and is the one that appears in the First Folio. The second quarto is commonly considered the more authoritative version of the play.

In talking to some of my fellow teachers, I found that, while most were aware that there are quarto and folio versions of the plays, few had considered using the differences between them as a teaching tool.  Personally, it wasn’t until my time at the 2012 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, when I was able to hear a talk by Dr. Barbara Mowat, co-editor of the Folger Editions, that I really saw the worth of these different versions in the secondary classroom.

English teachers across the United States are feeling the pressure of the Common Core and are searching out techniques and tools to address standards such as RL.11-12.4, which asks students to “determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone.”

Many students find this kind of sophisticated close reading difficult, but by providing them with two different possibilities for just a small section of the play, students are able to see how even the tiniest change in diction can affect layers of nuance in the overall impact of the lines. Continue Reading »

Why is being a teacher worth it? What is it that draws you to the classroom?

English teacher Rachel Ravreby Lintgen, a 1994 graduate of Amherst College in Massachusetts, gives her own answers to these important questions in a recent blog post. The Folger has a special connection to Amherst since the college is Henry Folger’s alma mater. But anyway, we enjoyed her blog post, and we wanted to share some of it with you:

In the past year, especially, I have thought long and hard about why it is I chose teaching. After a six-year hiatus to stay at home with my two children, I decided to return to the classroom this last year. As I re-entered the workforce, I found myself wondering why and how I had, again, chosen teaching as my path. More precisely, I found myself reflecting on what sustains me in a field that is difficult, time-consuming, underpaid, often criticized, routinely scapegoated, and typically misunderstood. The answer is both simple and multi-faceted: Curiosity. In my classroom, I wonder aloud how a writer crafts her prose. I ask my students to be critical inquirers, to ponder the complexities of a text and resist easy answers. And among my colleagues, we question our practice and investigate new ways to engage with the content and with our students. As a community of teachers we, too, are a community of learners who puzzle over the how and why kids learn. At our best, teachers are explorers – curious about not only the material of the course but about how best to communicate our passion to students.

Read more at Well Mixed, an Amherst College alumni blog.

What sustains you as a teacher? Is it curiosity, or something else? Tell us in the comments.

By Deborah Gascon

Have you ever seen any silent films of Shakespeare’s plays?

During the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, I sat for hours in the belly of the Folger Shakespeare Library watching black-and-white silent films of Othello and Romeo and Juliet—and it was the best day ever.

I was fascinated—how does a play with such essential language become silent? I realized while sitting in that basement that this would be an effective and quick tool to teach emotion, facial expressions, and pantomiming in acting (which all lead to understanding tone!).

When you watch a silent film, the most important words and emotions pop up on the screen, which makes it an effective way to help students engage in close reading and narrow the text for the main idea (which leads to understanding theme!).

Continue Reading »

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. Continue Reading »

First Folio on display in the Exhibition Hall at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

First Folio on display in the Exhibition Hall at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Just how important is the First Folio? Well, the First Folio is the only source for eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays, including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, and As You Like It, all of which would otherwise have been lost.

Imagine taking your students to see one of these books! The Folger holds 82 copies of the First Folio, about a third of those still in existence, and by far the largest collection in the world. If you happen to be teaching in the DC area, it’s not too difficult to arrange a class trip to the Folger Shakespeare Library.

But for those teachers in other parts of America, we have something for you to look forward to. In 2016, we’ll be taking the First Folio on the road – to every state in the U.S.

Encourage your local institutions to apply to host a First Folio! This opportunity is open to public, academic, and special libraries; small museums; historical societies; and other cultural venues. Online applications must be submitted by October 24.

This traveling exhibition is offered by the American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office, in collaboration with the Folger Shakespeare Library and Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC). The tour is made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Learn more at https://apply.ala.org/shakespeare.

 

 

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