Archive for January, 2012

~by Robert Miller

A new six-part public radio series, Shakespeare Is, will be broadcast nationwide in 2013. The series is being produced by two-time Peabody Award winner, Steve Rowland, (The Miles Davis Radio Project and Leonard Bernstein: An American Life) in conjunction with consulting producer David Chambers of the Yale School of Drama..  The series Web site will include a rich and detailed educational component. Developed by Timothy Gunn, former foundation executive and chair of Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media, and myself.

Steve Rowland has interviewed over 150 people steeped in the world of Shakespeare, including scholars, actors, directors, students, prison inmates and others. The series assumption is that the works of Shakespeare have taken on a universal nature – and are becoming more and more a standard basis for the discussion of life’s most vexing issues.  These include religion, class, race, the role of women – as well as deeply human issues like power, love, warfare, betrayal, loyalty, and ambition.  Shakespeare Is will be as much a program about society as it is about literature.

Until now, there has been no major documentary for television or radio that gives us a broad overview of Shakespeare’s works or the world of Shakespeare ‘now’: how Shakespeare is read, studied and performed, in the present.  Shakespeare Is will do both.

The six programs will be not about Shakespeare the man, but about the world inhabited today by scores of exciting people who spend their lives performing, teaching and sharing the Bard’s works.  With a careful blending of scholarly interviews, interviews with artists, rare archival material and new scenes recorded for this series, we will lay out some of the more important current thinking about Shakespeare and demonstrate how Shakespeare changes lives. The educational component will include hundreds of interviews from the series, archival scenes, and tutorials for educators, organized to help teachers enrich their lesson plans, and presented with attention to Common Core Standards.

The ShakespeareIs main Web site, www.ShakespeareIs.org is currently up and running. The education component is still growing, and we look forward to having even more to share.

Robert Miller is currently developing the Educational component and collected materials for Shakespeare Is, and was most recently director of educational publishing at WNET in New York. Shakespeare Is is an ongoing project produced by Steve Rowland and Dmae Roberts.

Learn more about Shakespeare Is on their website, follow them on Twitter, or “like” them on Facebook.

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Students watch another school perform during the 2010 Children's Festival

Last night my younger brother-in-law’s 8th grade class performed an abridged Macbeth after studying and rehearsing the play for 4 months. For most of them, this play was their first experience with Shakespeare, and – at least from my seat in the audience – they were enjoying the heck out of it.  Even as it warmed my heart, I kept thinking of a bit from a recent article by STC’s former literary associate, Akiva Fox, (the whole article is definitely worth a read):

“I wish I could be shocked when Cordelia doesn’t make it—what a ballsy and maddening and vital way to end a play! I wish I could hear jealousy described as a “green-eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on” and remember what jealousy felt like and realize what an insanely original and right way that is to describe it. I want to be 15 again for that (and not for any other part of being 15), but I understand that genie is not easily rebottled.”

In a lifetime of loving the Bard, it’s hard to be surprised by the plays I know so well. Macbeth is going to kill Duncan, and Banquo, and Macduff’s entire family. The things that were once shocking are commonplace to me. But to these students four months ago and to their families in the audience, it was totally new.

Isn’t it nice to be completely surprised by a 400 year old play? To see revelations dawn on faces young and older as they see the pieces fit together. To catch a couple of parents nodding (and “hmm”-ing) in understanding with “Tomorrow and tomorrow…”  (which my bro delivered like a pro). It was really invigorating to see this play unfolding before an audience for the first time.

This is what I love about students performing Shakespeare, especially when we’re coming up on Festival time here. The students in the audience may have never before seen the plays their peers put on at the Festivals, but there they are – gasping when Petruchio insults Katherina, clutching their sides when Titania discovers Bottom, or biting their nails when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth discuss treasonous deeds.

If your class watches a performance (on stage or screen) of a Shakespeare play for the first time, what are their reactions like? Older students can definitely be self-conscious of any reaction at all, but they may ask questions. For a first-time audience, what does a Shakespeare play look like?

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A new version of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Alan Brown, and featuring an all-male cast,  is sure to become an important film adaptation of this play. Private Romeo will be shown in New York City at the Cinema Village Theatre on E. 12th Street on Friday, February 10th.  If you’re in New York City on the 10th, you should get to the theatre and see it.  The film is suitable for high school students.  It is sure to provoke intense discussion of the play as well as the age-old motifs of love at first sight and all of the implications that come with it.

The film features Matt Doyle and Seth Numrich (War Horse, Lincoln Center run) as two military school students restricted to base, along with a few of their comrades, on a weekend when their fellow cadets go away on a training exercise.  The cadets who remain on base are assigned to continue reading Romeo and Juliet, and the film unfolds from there, with Doyle and Numrich taking on the title roles.  Director Brown has edited the text to a tight 92 minutes, and keeps the vitality of Shakespeare’s language intact. 

Private Romeo (Trailer) from The Film Collaborative on Vimeo.

The film will provide teachers with a number of teachable moments, not only about the language of Shakespeare’s play, but also about his observation that “the course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1.1.136).  The film’s conclusion is sure to prompt debate among viewers.

What films of Shakespeare’s plays have you seen that have generated discussion in class? What’s been the focus of that conversation?

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It all started with a Blog entry I posted here last week called Shakespeare in Other Words.  Suddenly,  Howard Sherman @HESherman and Peter Marks @petermarksdrama took that post to a new direction and began a heated  session on Twitter about the use of modern translations in Shakespeare productions. Before I knew it, Sherman organized a Tweet Convocation:“Soul of Shakespeare: Plot vs Language” #pmdhes for today at 2:30 with w/guest tweep Michael Kahn from DC’s Shakespeare Theater.

The confab lasted well over an hour and lots of folks joined in. Here are just a random few of the Tweets:

“Soul of Shakespeare” twitter convo arises from unplanned debate over whether it’s still Shakespeare when language is altered.

Above all, let’s have fun. After all, how many opportunities r there for live national multi-participant discussions of Shakespeare?

Doing our finger stretches, getting ready for today’s  Twitter conversation at 2:30.

@mikelomo was writing abt Shax in classrooms, not on stage, but it’s led to fascinating convo.

I am not bothered by some language changes. Murder, instead of murther, for example.

You don’t call Shakes ‘Ovid & Holinshead altered’ so why would you call very-much altered Shakes ‘Shakes’

But, if you change Mamet’s words is it still Mamet? No one argues he’s a poet not a playwright.

The depth of character in Shakes comes from what they SAY about what they feel & do

Aren’t we talking ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ of Shakespeare? Yes, language was distinct, but so was his vision, scope, style collusion etc

Have all the conceptual productions and severe cutting of text made it too ok to change language?

Greatest approach to teaching #Shakespeare at any age and especially in high school – GET THEM ON THEIR FEET AS THEY READ!!

But I don’t think ppl go to Shakespeare to see the same production that they had seen at another time. At least I hope not.

In schools, are students given free rein to imagine different settings, concepts? Would that help them “relate” better?

That’s what we do in schools. They produce their own scenes in any style they want, using the words.

“Where would you put this scene?” “What situation does this sound like to you?” imagination/relatability is key

Yes, good teachers allow that sort of higher-level thinking.

When productions modernize a play, etc., but keep the language – does the audience relate more?

My parents has Lambs’ TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE,. Suggested I always read before going to see when I was young.

When I was 5, my Russian immigrant mother read me the real Shakes. I fell in love w/it like you did with the Lambs.

I resisted the Lambs’ summaries completely. Stodgy, dull and I wanted to discover the stories for myself.

In my Shakespeare class in college I felt like we were discouraged from taking risks. Stick with the safe, they said.

I had BBC Shakespeare: Animated Tales after finding R&J at 8yo. Devotee ever since. All orig. lang.

In high school…only a handful of the plays are in most curriculums? Does that limit appeal?

I just don’t think Shakespeare is FOR everyone. And I think there are (a few) langauge barriers that cannot be overcome.

Any and all textual changes are GAME ON. As long as there’s transparency.

Make a good production & Shakespeare automatically is accessible. Concept should illuminate, not be used to “dumb down.”

many prods say they put lang center. alas, few really do

I knew director who watched all rehearsals from balcony w/ eyes closed to “listen to language. but it’s not a radio play

I love some plays, dislike others, avoid yet others entirely. But I don’t need to rewrite them.

I think it’s outrageous when Shakespeare is watered down. It’s outrageous when any author is paraphrased.

Why not go back to all male actors if we want to be extra faithful? (said w/ a wink)

Soliloquies are subtext made verbal.

I really have no problem with non-English additions. It’s the watered-down English I deplore.

Yay for us geeks!

Good god, was that an hour? Thanks @HESherman @petermarksdrama @ShakespeareinDC for the lovely confab!

You can go to Twitter and search #pmdhes to see the rest. But the discussion raised lots of questions. Feel free to answer some of them in the comments section below.

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~by Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger

No, Cassius; for the eye sees not itself,
But by reflection, by some other things.
(Julius Caesar, I.2)

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to meet with several 10th graders who were studying Othello. The classroom teacher let me loose, so after a very brief discussion (which consisted of my asking “what do you know already about Shakespeare and Othello?” and gathering up their responses to show them how much they do know), I had them up on their feet speaking the language.

As students sometimes are, these kids were a little put off by Shakespeare’s language. On the page, it felt stilted and even boring to them. But once they put themselves into the action, using their bodies and voices to bring life to the words, they discovered (in one student’s words) “Shakespeare is not that bad.” In fact, some were quite stunned to realize (to quote another student) “Othello is super duper cool.”

Most of the class was spent acting out—pushing the desks and chairs out of the way and creating short scenes. Students demonstrated how daws would peck at Iago’s heart if he wore it on his sleeve, showed how Iago would snatch the handerkerchief away from Emilia, and reveled in the final scene with all the death.

It’s tempting to end a class with all this action and send students on their way in this great mood. However, instead I had them answer five questions, in writing, to reflect on their experience and what they had learned. Giving them this opportunity is a final, satisfying piece in experience-based learning: putting the learning into their own words in their own context for their own lives. I asked students what they had learned and how that learning might help them in other classes or other areas of their lives. There were no “right” or “wrong” answers, just an opportunity for students to think about what they had done and how it mattered.

Some of my favorite comments from this group were:

The most helpful activity was the portraying of lines in different ways. It showed how acting the lines differently changed the meaning of the words.

When we talked about how the plays were not meant to be read then. That helps me to imagine when I read more Shakespeare in the future, to picture it being in a theater so I can understand it better.

It was helpful seeing people in class act out the scenes according to the play, not professional actors in a movie.

I understand more how Shakespeare plays were acted out in the Globe theater. Like how loud the actors had to be and how they used animal blood and how they acted with people being very noisy and thieves in the crowd stealing money.

It was helpful discussing different ways the characters could be portrayed and seeing them portrayed. It helped me understand the depth of the characters.

I think the most helpful part for me was when we talked about how to make your expression in your voice help the audience understand what the words mean.

It was helpful hearing and seeing the lines acted out instead of just reading them on paper.

Acting out the scenes was helpful because I got to understand how the language contributes to the performance.

We are now Shakespearean actors!

How do you encourage to students think about what they are learning and make Shakespeare more than words on a page?

Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger is the Docent Liason for Folger Education, and a published writer for Calliope magazine. Carol Ann is also, now, one of our most frequent contributors!

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Students play "Thus Die I" during the 2011 Secondary Festival.

~by Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger

There’s no reason students can’t have fun while learning! Part of Folger’s philosophy of “performance-based teaching” encourages students and teachers to play with the Shakespeare’s language and be actively engaged in creating meaning. What better way than to make it a game? I’ll mention that these all caught and kept the attention of older students (high school and adult learners), so don’t discount games just because you think your students are “too old.”

I recently used games with a couple of groups of learners, and I was pleased to see how excited and engaged they were. Some games and activities were especially popular:

“Complete that Quote!”
The point here was not to focus on memorizing passages, but on focusing on rhyme and rhythm to discover words that would fit. This game application to iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets as participants brainstormed possible matches and then selected the best ones.

“Thus Die I”
One of the Docents once said of getting students warmed up for a workshop, “They love to die. Once they’ve died all over the place, they’re ready for anything.” For this activity, the group is given Bottom-as-Pyramus’s death line: “Thus die I, Thus, Thus, Thus.” Each participant draws a profession from a hat (America’s Next Top Model? Soccer Player? Voldemort?) and die as that character saying that line.

Instead of a standard review sheet, I created a Jeopardy game that provided answers to which students had to generate questions. I didn’t want to put anyone on the spot, so students worked in teams. The teams were able to earn points for stating the correct question to correlate with important facts.

“Top Ten”
Modeled very loosely after David Letterman’s Top Ten List, participants figured out the most important events in particular character’s lives. This is a great way to have a lively debate about how to organize events: in chronological order or in order of importance.

How have you used games or play to form new kinds of connections, explore ideas, or review material with your students?

Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger is the Docent Liason for Folger Education, and a published writer for Calliope magazine.

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“How far a modern quill doth come too short
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow”
~Sonnet 83

A few videos were sent our way this week (or were found by us and shared with the group), and though the content varies it seems that giving Shakespeare a modern voice is quite popular on the YouTube. Below are two of my favorites:

First, comedian John Branyan laments the decline of the English language, and resolves to tell bedtime stories in a more “Shakespearean” tone. He begins with an 8-minute rendition of The Three Little Pigs. It’s truly a marvel:

Next, hip-hop artist Akala speaks at a Tedx Conference  about how both Shakespearean verse and modern hip-hop seek to use the power of language to preserve truth. He demonstrates how they work together and how, at times, it’s even hard to tell them apart:

Do you think work like Branyan’s and Akala’s are helping to preserve Shakespeare’s language? Do they make it more accessible for modern audiences, or is it separating the Bard from us completely? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Why are there so many “modern” versions of Shakespeare’s plays?

There are plenty of great books that don’t need translated versions. We don’t look for easier versions of Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, or Fitzgerald (or at least, I hope we don’t.) But re-doing Shakespeare seems to be a favorite sport of publishers.

In a way, we can trace it back to Nahum Tate in the 1680’s and Thomas Bowdler in 1818, but they had totally different agendas than today’s creators. Tate wanted happy endings and Bowdler wanted to clean up the naughty bits.[I’ll talk about them in my next post.]

We at the Folger have a standard answer when someone asks us what we think of “modern” versions of Shakespeare’s texts:


Why dumb down all those beautiful words and images for the sake of making it easier? We’ve found that if you’re teaching Shakespeare in an active, performance-based approach, the language becomes less of on obstacle.

It’s the words that matter. Here’s an example of a passage from R&J which I’ve written with an interlinear version with the No Fear version:

Shakespeare: Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!

No Fear: Oh, she shows the torches how to burn bright!

Shakespeare: It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night

No Fear: She stands out against the darkness

Shakespeare: Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear,

No Fear: like a jeweled earring hanging against the cheek of an African.

Shakespeare: Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.

No Fear: Her beauty is too good for this world; she’s too beautiful to die and be buried.

Shakespeare:  So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.

No Fear: She outshines the other women like a white dove in the middle of a flock of crows.

Shakespeare: The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,

No Fear: When this dance is over, I’ll see where she stands

Shakespeare: And, touching hers, make blessèd my rude hand.

No Fear: and then I’ll touch her hand with my rough and ugly one.

Shakespeare: Did my heart love till now?

No Fear: Did my heart ever love anyone before this moment?

Shakespeare: Forswear it, sight!

No Fear: My eyes were liars, then

Shakespeare: For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

No Fear: because I never saw true beauty before tonight.

See the difference? Post your comments below as to the effect of the translation.

I almost hesitate to mention more of these, but they are worth discussing here. The following are for the print empaired student:

But back to print. Here are the candidates:

  • Kent Richmond has created what he calls “verse translations” of several plays and shows why his versions are superior to what he calls the “dumbed down prose versions.”  Here’s his translation of the Prologue from R&J.
  • No Fear Shakespeare is part of Spark Notes. Here’s their parallel-text version of the same Prologue.
  • Barrons have moved on from their Shakespeare Made Easy series with the death of  their author, Alan Durband. They now have a series called Simply Shakespeare which seems equally bad.
  • There’s also a series of Shakespeare Novels by Paul Illidge.  Here’s the opening line from Macbeth: “A summer storm moves on over the barren and deserted countryside of Scotland during the Middle Ages, leaving the rain-soaked fields cloaked in clouds of fog.” Oh my.

I won’t get into the manga and graphic versions of the plays, most of which retain the original language and are quite good.

One of my students recently said to me, “You have some strong opinions.” Yes, I do, but if you feel that there’s room for these translations in your class, I encourage you to post your comments below.

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Happy New Year!

SSO student interpretation of the "Queen Mab" speech from Romeo and Juliet

As we tear into a new Gregorian calendar, we celebrate new beginnings, fresh starts, and new goals. But we returned to our offices and classrooms today to continue a school-year already in progress. How can we infuse our lesson plans with the same fresh fervor as we intend to apply to our new workout routines?

What if they worked together?

I’ve trumpeted audio-plays before, as assistants to students reading new Shakespearean texts for the first time, but they’re also great to listen to during a workout. Engaged listening takes your mind off of any physical stress, and it can’t be much easier to count reps than with iambic pentameter – 2 lines equals a set!

In the same way, students could engage with the text aurally either by listening to and miming a scene along with an audio play to get at what’s happening in the play, by recording their own audio play for the class (complete with sound effects?), or even by simply listening to a passage and drawing the imagery that comes through – as we do with the Shakespeare Steps Out classes.

Just one idea, anyhow. How are you approaching a new calendar year with your class?

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