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.
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.