Archive for September, 2010

Vampire mania has taken over the world. It seems that other supernatural creatures are not far behind them. And all of this is particularly prevalent among the younger, Twilight-adoring, Edward-vs-Jacob crowd (Although perhaps there has always been an allure towards vampires: I will admit, I loved The Lost Boys and Interview with a Vampire in their day. But I digress.). And slowly, our supernatural obsession may be seen taking over past classic works…has anyone yet spotted this new book in their local Barnes & Noble?

This whole craze leads me to wonder how long it will be before Shakespeare is roped into the mania as well. And what form will it take? Much Ado About Werewolves? Twelfth Night of the Living Dead? Romeo and Juliet Eaten by Vicious, Man-Eating Goblins? Or perhaps I’m already behind the times – has anyone already seen such books published?

Which leads me to a final question: How might the craze towards the super-natural be harnessed for the literary forces of good and not evil? How might we, as lovers of Shakespeare, English, and Plain Good Writing use the influence of Twilight to pique our students interest in the works of the Bard? Any ideas?

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After an incredible summer with the Teaching Shakespeare Institute, the Folger has been overtaken by Tudor-mania! The current exhibition, Vivat Rex!, commemorates the 500th anniversary of Henry’s ascension to the throne of England, and the Theatre is rehearsing Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, also known as All is True.

With all the pop-culture fervor for the polygamist king, it seems fitting that Shakespeare, too, made a contribution to the dramatic life of Henry VIII – what would have been fairly recent history to his audience. Why, though, is the original title of the play All is True?

The play covers events which took place between 1521 (with the arrest of the Duke of Buckingham) and 1536 (the death of Katherine of Aragon), but condenses the timeline so it all happens almost at once, with most of the action taking place off-stage and being described by courtly gentlemen. The characters in the play appear differently than we’re used to history portraying them. For example, Anne Boleyn (Bullen, in the play) declares vehemently that she would never want to be queen, though she marries Henry a few short scenes later.

We can’t argue with the outcomes of the events in the play – Buckingham was executed as a traitor, Katherine was disposed as Henry’s first wife, Anne did marry Henry – but we can re-imagine how they could have happened, if only for one play. If we were to write a play about recent history today, how would we tell it? What sort of politics or events would we gloss over to tell the story?

For more about the production, or activities for this play, visit the Study Guide!

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School begins soon, my vacation shortened by the intense summer I spent at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute. As these drowsy days transform to hectic autumn, I wonder how I will use the TSI experience in my classroom. Over the past few years, I have relied on Shakespeare Set Free to teach Romeo and Juliet, but I want to use the month I spent in DC this summer to expand my repertoire. Which play should I add? As I wade through the dusty stacks in our textbook room, Henry IV, Part 1 stands, tall and regal . . . and unread since 1990 – a complete class set. Have I the courage to go forth?

Even though we spent a full week (and I mean FULL) on Henry IV, Part 1 during the Institute – lectures, discussions, debates; illuminating, recording, memorizing and performing; and a 15-minute rendition of the play acted by our troupe of secondary school teachers from around the country – I am still intimidated. The play is long, confusing, historical – all the complaints my students voice before we embark on anything Shakespeare. Plus, I don’t know the play or English history well enough to . . . to what? I’ve no illusions of perfection – just being moderately versed is enough – but instead of urging myself forward, I demoralize myself with doubts. “What ifs” clog my consciousness. What if students ask how Bolingbroke seized the crown from Richard? Or what is a Plantagenet? Whose wife is sister to whom? Which characters did Shakespeare conflate? Or a hundred other questions I can’t answer? Thankfully a voice emerges between the scratchy static in my head, the voice of Folger curriculum specialist, Mike LoMonico: You don’t have to do the whole play.”

An encouraging chorus of “What ifs” surface: What if we only consider the father-son aspects of the play? What if we act the 15-minute version from Shakespeare Set Free, look at a few speeches, and save the heavy lifting for Othello?

I quell my fears by reminding myself that Shakespeare study is not about knowing the plays inside out, but about challenging ourselves with difficult text. Decoding Shakespeare does something to our brains that ultimately makes us smarter, so when we come to a different Shakespeare, or Marlow, or Jonson, we are that much better equipped to untangle its meaning. So what if I don’t know enough and I enter Henry IV, Part 1 as my students do: learning what I can, knowing I will never know it all, and taking a chance just to see where it leads?

Marion Levine is a guest contributor to Making A Scene.  She teaches high school students at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies in Los Angeles, CA.

For Folger Education resources on Henry IV, Part 1, including lesson plans, activities, and video interviews with cast and crew members of Folger Theatre’s 2008 production, please click here.

Photo credit: Ellen Adair (Lady Percy) and David Graham Jones (Hotspur), Henry IV, Part 1, directed by Paul Mason Barnes, Folger Theatre, 2008. Carol Pratt.

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