Archive for June, 2010

Oberon and Titania's rage sends fairies flying at each other while Puck looks gleefully on.

Word Words Words are what come to mind when we are first asked to think of Shakespeare. The man wrote brilliant words! But he also wrote incredible characters with vast emotional range and complex inner turmoil, which cannot only be expressed in words.

Here in DC there is a theatre company called Synetic (pictured up left), which tells stories through a movement combination of mime, dance, and acting (but mostly without words). Since the success of one of their original completely silent pieces “Hamlet, the rest is silence,” they have done a “Silent Shakespeare” every spring. Without words, this company manages to convey an entire story in 90 minutes, without losing the intent of the text – even if the text itself is cut completely.  But is it still “Shakespeare” if we’re not using his words?

One of our activities for students is a “Dumbshow” recreating the Mousetrap scene from Hamlet, though we encourage other scenes to be considered. How do you convey the purpose of the scene without words?

Scene #1
1. A King and Queen enter together.
2. The King dismisses his wife. The Queen exits.
3. The King goes to sleep.
4. A Murderer enters, lifts the crown off of the king’s head and kisses it. The Murderer pours poison in the King’s ear.
5. The King dies. The Murderer exits.
6. The Queen enters, and tries to wake the King. She weeps over his body.
7. The Murderer enters with gifts for the Queen. She refuses them.
8. The Murderer offers himself to the Queen. She accepts him.
9. The Murderer places the crown on his head and exits with the Queen.

Have several groups of students perform these actions, deciding for themselves the best way to act as the characters.  Then read the Mousetrap scene from Hamlet (Act 3, scene 2) with them and have the groups perform the spoken version using their emotions from the silent scene. How did performing silently affect their spoken performance? Did speaking make it easier to convey?

Of course, those of you on Summer Break may not be able to try this activty until you’re back in school, but what are your thoughts on “Shakespeare without Words”?

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Despite the sudden interest in World Cup Soccer right now, Major League Baseball  is in full swing (sorry) so here are a few Shakespearean tidbits:

In the 1950s, the Canadian comedy team of Wayne and Shuster were regulars on the Ed Sullivan Show.  In 1958, they created a wonderful script called The Shakespearean Baseball Game for the opening of the Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival.  Here is a sample from the opening:

Bosworth Field (A Baseball Stadium Near Stratford)
[Enter Two Umpires]
Umpire 2
Hail Granato!
Umpire 1
I give you greeting, Antonio.
Thou hast the starting lineups?
Umpire 2
Ay. The batting orders duly signed
by managers both.
Umpire 1
‘Tis well. What o’clock ist?
Umpire 2
‘Tis at the stroke of two.
[Trumpets sound]
Umpire 1
Hark! The players come. To our
appointed places shall we go, you at first
and I behind the plate. This game
depends on how you make your call.
Farewell! until you hear me cry “Play ball!”
[Enter The Players]
My excellent good friends, may fortune
smile upon our enterprise this day.

and here is the complete script.

But Shakespeare also anticipated the game of baseball in the following lines:

“And so I shall catch the fly” – Henry V

“You have scarce time to steal” Henry VIII

“Run, run, O run!” – King Lear

“You may go walk” – Taming of the Shrew

“A hit, a very palpable hit!” – Hamlet

“O hateful error” – Julius Caesar

“Fair is foul and foul is fair” – Macbeth

“My arm is sore” – Antony and Cleopatra

“For this relief much thanks” – Hamlet

“I have no joy in this contract.” Romeo and Juliet

And Paul Dickson in Baseball’s Greatest Quotations found some more:

“And have is have, however men do catch.” – King John

“And what a pitch … !” – Henry VI, Part I

“And when he caught it, he let it go again.” – Coriolanus

“And watched him how he singled …” – Henry VI, Part III

“Foul …?” – The Tempest

“He comes the third time home …” – Coriolanus

“Hence! home … get you home …” – Julius Caesar

“He’s safe.” – Measure for Measure

“I am safe.” – Antony and Cleopatra

“I’ll catch it ere it come to ground.” – Macbeth

“I shall catch the fly …” – Henry V

“I thank you for your good counsel. Come, my coach!” – Hamlet

“Look to the plate.” – Romeo and Juliet

“My heels are at your command; I will run.” – The Merchant of Venice

“O my offense is rank, it smells to heaven.” – Hamlet

“O, tis fair …” – Troilus and Cressida

“Sweet sacrifice.” – Henry VIII

“That one error fills him with faults.” – The Two Gentlemen of Verona

“There is three umpires in this matter …” – The Merry Wives of WIndsor

“They that … pitch will be defiled.” – Much Ado About Nothing

“Thy seat is up … high.” – Richard II

“What wretched errors …!” – Sonnets

“When time is ripe – which will be suddenly, I’ll steal …” Henry IV, Part I

“Your play needs no excuse.” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

And finally, this is what I think of the great game of baseball:

“O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all hooping!” As You Like It

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Teaching Shakespeare to students whose native language is not English can be a real challenge for teachers.  Last year we received a number of requests for resources to help teachers introduce Shakespeare to ELL/ESL students.  In response to those requests, we created new web pages on our Teach and Learn site.   Teachers with experience teaching ELL/ESL students helped us create a page with tips for teaching ELL/ESL students, and they also developed a series of lesson plans devoted to pre-reading activities with students as well as lessons for teaching Hamlet.  The pre-reading lessons are adaptable for teaching any play, whether it’s by Shakesepeare or another playwright.

How do you introduce ELL/ESL students to Shakespeare’s plays?  What have you found to be especially helpful when working with students?  What hasn’t worked as well as you thought it would?

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…when the scolding winds
Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen
The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam,
To be exalted with the threatening clouds:
~Julius Caesar I.iii

It certainly has been a tempestuous beginning to the summer!  DC has seen lots of rain, we had our first ever George Didden Capitol Hill Children’s Festival, and we open our newest exhibit Lost at Sea next week!

One of Shakespeare’s favorite plot devices was a shipwreck (see Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale, or especially The Tempest and Pericles).  It sets his characters in new places that they’re not always ready to be, and makes for exciting adventures for them!

I’m banking up some summer reading of books based on The Tempest: Indigo by Marina Warner, Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez, and Ariel by Grace Tiffany.

The summer is a great time for performing outdoors – perhaps an impromptu Midsummer in the woods, a Twelfth Night in a swimming pool?  What sort of activities do you plan to encourage your students to do this summer?

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