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This afternoon we sat in on the design presentations for Folger Theatre‘s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. From a practical point of view, we need to see how the Theatre space will be changed so that we can adjust for our programs which take place onstage; but from the perspective of a fan of Shakespeare, it’s so exciting to see – each time – how this company at this point in time takes on a familiar play to tell a new story.

For example, director Aaron Posner says that his inspiration for this production came out of a conversation with his wife, actress Erin Weaver (who will be playing Juliet, and will also be joining us for our Romeo and Juliet set free workshop), in which they discussed the moment in which Juliet decides not to face the consequences, not to run away, but to end her life, instead. It’s nice to say that it’s the culmination of the story of a whirlwind romance in which two people were never meant for anyone but each other and her decision not to go on without him is romantic as well as sad – but, says Posner, “that’s not a story I can relate to.” Exploring, instead, what kind of world shapes Juliet in this direction and makes her choice not only one borne of love, but also of necessity, tells a different story than we might be used to as an audience.

“It’s a hard play to cut,” Posner added, since the language is so good and everything seems important to the story. The words are so familiar – they’ve been said hundreds of thousands of times – but each inflection and each decision made by Aaron and his cast of actors will tell a different story from each production that came before it. That’s something truly wonderful about Shakespeare in performance, anywhere in performance – In classrooms or theaters, amateurs to professionals – each person brings something new to the table to tell a new story with the same words.

Have you seen this play in performance recently, or read it with your students? What sort of discoveries did you make? Did anything change the way you perceive the play for good?

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Earlier this week we were approached by a performing group who was going to use Romeo and Juliet for the first time with their young audience. They were concerned with how to tell the end of the story without being too disturbing or too blase – getting the lesson across without traumatizing their audience.

We’ve been giving the tragedies to elementary-aged kids for a good long while, but it was still an interesting question to ponder. Lucretia Anderson put in her two cents: “They were desperate teens who did something awful to themselves resulting in a huge tragic loss for both families. This should teach students that coming together and eradicating hate is the way to go. We usually say that they “took their own lives” instead of saying they “committed suicide” or “killed themselves.” Romeo takes poison, Juliet stabs herself with a dagger. The elementary kids can handle it.

Ultimately, each teacher or presenter is familiar enough with their own audience of students that they know what they’ll be able to handle. But is there a line to toe, and where is it?

The research bug got me again, so I looked at a few examples of books for kids that depicted the lovers’ final acts. Read on for these examples, below, but how do you talk about fictional tragedy in your classroom?

Graham Hamilton, Nicole Lowrance, Romeo and Juliet, Folger Theatre, 2005.

Graham Hamilton, Nicole Lowrance, Romeo and Juliet, Folger Theatre, 2005.

~Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb

Here Romeo took his last leave of his lady’s lips, kissing them; and here he shook the burden of his cross stars [sic] from his weary body, swallowing the poison which the apothecary had sold him, whose operation was fatal and real, not like the dissembling potion Juliet had swallowed, the effect of which was now nearly expiring, and she about to awake, to complain that Romeo had not kept his time, or that he had come too soon.

…but when Juliet saw the cup closed in her true love’s hands, she guessed that poison had been the cause of his end, and she would have swallowed the dregs if any had been left, and she kissed his still warm lips to try if any poison yet did hang upon them: they [sic] hearing a nearer noise of people coming, she quickly unsheathed a dagger which she wore, and stabbing herself, died by her true Romeo’s side.

~Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield
He knelt beside her and made his sad farewell.

“Eyes, look your last. Arms, take your last embrace! And lips, O you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss a dateless bargain to engrossing Death.” Then, with a sudden joyfulness he cried, “Here’s to my love!” and drank the apothecary’s poison; and so, in an instant, ended for ever the parting from his love.

Longingly she kissed Romeo’s lips in the hope that some poison still remained on them. There was none; so she took his dagger and pressed it lovingly into her heart.

~Romeo and Juliet for Kids by Lois Burnett
He held her close in a final embrace.
Romeo found the poison and held it high,
“Here’s to my love. Thus with a kiss I die!”

The Friar left her in the tomb below,
And she knelt one last time by her Romeo.
What’s here? A cup, closed in my true love’s hand?
Poison, my lord! This is not what we planned!”
She drank from the bottle, but it was dry,
“One friendly drop to me you deny?

Juliet stabbed herself, and life defied,
Then fell to the ground by Romeo’s side.

~The Random House Book of Shakespeare Stories, [liberally] retold by Andrew Matthews

With a cry, Romeo rushed to her side and covered her face with kisses and tears. “I cannot live without you,” he whispered. “I want your beauty to be the last thing my eyes see. We could not be together in life, my sweet love, but in death nothing shall part us!”

Romeo drew the cork from the poison bottle and raised it to his lips. He felt the vile liquid sting his throat. Then darkness swallowed him.

For a time, there was no sound except the spluttering of the torch. Then Juliet began to breathe. She opened her eyes and saw Romeo dead at her side with the empty poison bottle in his hand. At first, she thought she was dreaming. But when she reached out to touch Romeo’s face and smelled the bitter scent of the poison, she knew the nightmare was real. Friar Laurence’s plan had gone terribly wrong. She cradled Romeo in her arms and rocked him, weeping into his hair. “If you had only waited a little longer!” she whispered. She kissed Romeo again and again, desperately hoping that there was enough poison on his lips to kill her too.

Then she saw the torchlight gleam on the dagger at Romeo’s belt. She drew the weapon and pressed the point to her heart. “Now, dagger, take me to my love!” she said, and pushed with all her strength.

~The Best-Loved Plays of Shakespeare, from Star Bright Books

The death of Romeo
Romeo opens Juliet’s tomb. He gazes lovingly at his bride.

“…Ah, dear Juliet, Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe that unsubstantial death is amorous and that the lean abhorred monster keeps thee here in dark to be his paramour?”

Romeo then prepares himself to die.

“Eyes, look your last! Arms, take your last embrace! And lips, O you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss…”

He drinks the poison and dies.

Juliet Awakes
Just as Juliet wakes up, the Friar arrives. He sees the bodies of Paris and Romeo. He tells Juliet they must fly away at once. When Juliet sees that Romeo is dead, she refuses to leave. She sees that he has taken poison. ‘O, churl! Drink all and left no friendly drop to help me after?’ she says. She kisses his lips. Then she takes up Romeo’s dagger to stab herself.

~Tales from Shakespeare, by Tina Packer

Romeo held the lantern over Juliet’s face. “O my love! My wife! Death hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.” He kissed her cold lips, then lay beside her. “Here will I remain with worms that are thy chambermaids.” Romeo uncorked his poison. “Here’s to my love!” He closed his eyes and drained the bottle. The poison was quick. Romeo kissed Juliet again. “Thus, with a kiss, I die.”

Juliet knelt down. She found Romeo’s bottle and lifted it to her lips. “O, churl,” she said fondly. “Drunk all, and left no friendly drop to help me after? I will kiss thy lips. Perhaps some poison yet doth hang on them.”

The voices outside grew louder.

Juliet drew Romeo’s knife and aimed it at her heart. “Oh happy dagger! This is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.” With a swift motion, she stabbed herself and collapsed beside her husband.

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It seems we’re not alone in our disappointment with Julian Fellowes’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (sans Shakespeare’s words). While the language still sounds lofty, they’re not Shakespeare’s word choices – and that’s a big deal.

R&J Posters - Shall I Compare Thee to a Quarto

Terry Guerin suggested in the comments that one of the quotes was perhaps based on First or Second Quarto language – which made me think that maybe Fellowes was working from an early text instead of the ones with which we’re more familiar. So I went to the library sherpa, Alan Katz, who linked me to the texts in the Luna database so I could reference them from the comfort of my own desk (where I can still consume coffee and cookies – unlike in the Reading Rooms!).

Using images of each page from a 1597 First Quarto and 1599 Second Quarto, I ran through the quoted lines from the Fellowes trailer again. The results for a few notable differences are below, but this reminded me so strongly of a really cool video segment and activity idea from our 2012 Electronic Field Trip, that I just have to share that first:

In this clip, Dr. Gail Kern Paster speaks about how comparing two texts of the same play is useful for editors as they make their choices about what language to use when they create their edition of the play, and she references these two Quartos. On page 4 of the accompanying teaching guide for this program, we included images of the passages Dr. Paster references for students to compare in their own classrooms.

It becomes obvious, below, that Fellowes’ “translation” is not even close to First or Second quarto language, and is actually closer to that blasted “no fear” than anything else – which I’ve included, too.

What do these comparisons make you think? What’s gained and lost with each iteration?

Fellowes: On honor of my blood, I’ll strike him dead
First Quarto: Now by the stocke and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it for no sin.
Second Quarto: Now by the stocke and honor of my kin, To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin
Folger Edition: Now, by the stock and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.
No Fear: Now, by the honor of our family, I do not consider it a crime to kill him.

Fellowes: [Juliet, if your heart like mine is full then tell the joy that weights us this night,]
I cannot tell of what is limitless.
First Quarto: NOT FOUND
Second Quarto: My bountie is as boundlesse as the sea, My love as deep, the more give to thee The more I have, for both are infinite:
Folger Edition: My bounty as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite
No Fear: My generosity to you is as limitless as the sea, and my love is as deep. The more love I give you, the more I have. Both loves are infinite.

Fellowes: Romeo! Come settle with me, boy!
First Quarto: Bace boy this cannot serve thy turn, and therefore drawe.
Second Quarto: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries That thou hast done me, therefore turn and draw.
Folger Edition: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries That thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.
No Fear: Boy, your words can’t excuse the harm you’ve done to me. So now turn and draw your sword.

Fellowes: What have I done but murdered my tomorrow?
First Quarto: Ah, I am fortunes slave.
Second Quarto: O I am fortunes fool.
Folger Edition: O, I am Fortune’s fool!
No Fear: Oh, I have awful luck.

Fellowes: Then you are mine no more, so help me God.
First Quarto: If you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend: If not, hang, drowne, starve, beg, Dye in the streets: for by my Soule Ile never more acknowledge thee, Nor what I have shall ever doe thee good, Thinke ont, look toot, I doe not vie to jest.
Second Quarto: And you be mine, Ile give you to my friend, And you be not, hang, beg, starve, dye in the streets, For by my soul ile nere acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good: Trust too’t, bethink you, ile not be forsworne.
Folger Edition: An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good. Trust to ’t; bethink you. I’ll not be forsworn.
No Fear: If you act like my daughter, I’ll marry you to my friend. If you don’t act like my daughter, you can beg, starve, and die in the streets. I swear on my soul, I will never take you back or do anything for you. Believe me. Think about it. I won’t break this promise.

Fellowes: Take this vial… and drink through the last drop… and there will be no sign of life within you.
First Quarto: take thou this Violl, And this distilled Liquor drinke thou off: … No sign of breath shall testifie thou livst.
Second Quarto: Take thou this violl…And this distilling liquor drink thou off,… No warmth, no breast shall testify thou livest.
Folger Edition: Take thou this vial… And this distilling liquor drink thou off… No warmth, no breath shall testify thou livest.
No Fear: take this vial, mix its contents with liquor, and drink… Your flesh will be cold, and you’ll stop breathing… It will seem like you’re dead

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I was speaking with Folger Theatre’s resident Dramaturg, Michele Osherow, this morning as she prepared for an on-camera interview. While catching up, I mentioned that my husband would be working on a performance of Measure for Measure during his first year of graduate school – one of my least favorite plays. Michele replied that Measure for Measure is one of her favorites because it is so messy and unsettling, the same reasons I don’t like it.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Michele went on to point out that while her college students express distaste for Measure for Measure or Troilus and Cressida during her class, those complicated and uncomfortable plays are the ones they return to explore in their final papers and presentations. They’re the plays that stick in their minds because there’s so much to explore even as it discomfits us.

My favorite plays tend to contain comic banter. I like how the words intersect and dance around each other, especially out loud, in plays like Much AdoTwelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet (before it becomes a tragedy). I also enjoy the bumbling comic characters in Midsummer, as you already know, because I feel so close to Shakespeare as a player in those scenes. I enjoy talking about the use of language and the playing with the several meanings of words in performance.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

For Michele, those complicated plays are very close in nature to modern theatrical experiences. They make us question how we feel and what we think about the world we live in – just as Shakespeare’s audience must have felt and thought. Is marriage a reward or a punishment? Is your best friend a good or bad person – are you? Who do you relate to: the villain or the hero – or is there a character you can identify as either role?

This reminded me of several videos in our Teacher to Teacher series – especially ‘Beauty in Difficulty‘ from Kristyn Rosen on plays that will challenge her students. Additionally, there is a whole section of videos related to teachers responding to the question “What is your favorite Shakespeare play to teach?” They cite relatability, good discussions, fun, and playable moments as their best reasons for one play or another.

What is your favorite play to read, see, teach, or talk about?

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Well, that’s a disappoinment.

A closer watch of the trailer for the upcoming Romeo and Juliet adapted by Julian Fellowes reveals that the play has not only been adapted as a screenplay (which is all well and good), but has also had its language adapted. Sneakily, too, it took awhile for the differences from the lines used in the trailer to sink in.

And it wouldn’t be such a disappointment if it weren’t being advertised as:

R&J Trailer Still

R&J Trailer Still 2

Adaptation is a fine thing – it can illuminate the play in ways we never expected. Luhrman’s Romeo+Juliet, while garish and dizzying, gave us a new context for the play and a feeling of vitality and importance though we’ve all known the outcome of the story forever. I honestly cannot see the point of an adaptation in which little to none of the original text is used and it’s set in an all-too-familiar setting. It looks exactly like the lavish Italian set of the famous Zeffirelli film, yet the language is ever-so-slightly (and not-so slightly) tweaked. And why? For time? For clarity? What is the purpose of these textual edits? And why, then, advertise it as Shakespeare’s?

I went through the trailer and picked out the lines used, then looked up what I believed to be their equivalents in the Folger Digital Texts to compare what’s being said. For some, it’s a simple word that’s been changed. For others, it’s an entire phrase that’s been re-edited for some reason.

“On honor of my blood, I’ll strike him dead”
vs “Now, by the stock and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.”

“I would not let any harm beset him in my house.”
vs: I would not for the wealth of all this town Here in my house do him disparagement.

“Juliet, if your heart like mine is full then tell the joy that weights us this night,”
“I cannot tell of what is limitless.”
vs: “My bounty as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite”

“These violent passions can have violent ends.”
vs: “These violent delights have violent ends.”

“Then you are mine no more, so help me God.”
vs: “An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good. Trust to ’t; bethink you. I’ll not be forsworn.”

“What have I done but murdered my tomorrow?”
vs: “O, I am Fortune’s fool!”

“There is no world beyond this city’s walls. Just purgatory… Heaven is here where Juliet lives. Every unworthy thing may look on her but Romeo may not.”
vs: “There is no world without Verona walls But purgatory, torture, hell itself… Heaven is here Where Juliet lives, and every cat and dog And little mouse, every unworthy thing, Live here in heaven and may look on her, But Romeo may not.”

“A greater power than we can contradict has thwarted all our plans.”
vs “A greater power than we can contradict Hath thwarted our intents.”
(not too bad, but is Friar Lawrence really saying that to Romeo? That’s supposed to be his line to Juliet in the tomb.)

“O, Furtune Fortune, send him back to me.”
vs: “O Fortune, Fortune, all men call thee fickle. If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him That is renowned for faith? Be fickle, Fortune, For then I hope thou wilt not keep him long, But send him back.”

“Take this vial… and drink through the last drop… and there will be no sign of life within you.”
vs: “Take thou this vial… And this distilling liquor drink thou off… No warmth, no breath shall testify thou livest.”

“Give me my Romeo. And when he shall die, cut him out in little stars. He will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night.”
vs:
“Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night.”

This is a topic we keep coming back to:

“Bless thee, Thou Art Translated”
“Shakespeare… in Other Words”
“All Students Deserve Shakespeare”
“More to Fear from No Fear”

And it was addressed in our May 14th Webinar, of which you can watch an archived recording: Shakespeare in Other Words.

What do you think? What could the purpose of this sly translation be? What is lost or gained by these edits? How could it affect the way the audience perceives Shakespeare?

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Film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays appear regularly each year. Some of the plays get more attention than others – I mean, just look at the wikipedia lists of film adaptations for Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and especially Hamlet! There was definitely a lot of (deserved) hype this summer for Joss Whedon’s independent Much Ado About Nothing, but nothing matches the well-trod tragedies for film popularity.

Even so, I was surprised to see that not one, but two new film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet are in the works this year. One is the highly publicized adaptation by Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellowes, and the other is a… well… an operetta set in a trailer park in New Zealand? The former is certainly much more faithful to the text, but the latter has this vitality about it that reminds me of some of our student performances at the Festivals – the inspiration of imagination and making the text one’s own.

I’ve seen students present R&J on our stage as a comedy (with a little death at the end), as a serious love story, as a story about swords (with a little love thrown in), as characters from Twilight, as modern teenagers, and just about everything in between. Every class that presents the same play brings something different to the table, just as every film director will bring something new to light in their vision of the play on screen.

I, personally, can’t get enough of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, but I am surprised by how much we’re still making the same ones! Why do you think that is? What plays would you like to see made into screenplays? I’m going to begin a push for Cymbeline, I think…

And can I mention just how much Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth look like Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting?

twor&j

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In June we hosted a small group of students from the University of Georgia at the first stage of their Transatlantic Shakespeare summer program. One of the students, Abigail Berquist, was gracious enough to share her experience with Shakespeare thus far:

I’ve come from a rich Shakespeare background due to private school teaching
me a play-a-year starting in about 3rd or 4th grade, to living in London a year which allowed time to go to Stratford and the Globe Theatre, yet I have always been intimidated by it. The language prevented me from fully understanding the play. When I’d read a work by the great playwright for class, I’d summarize as I read; that was my main objective so I would fully understand what seemed complicated to me.

I chose to come on the Washington-Oxford Program with the University of Georgia to study Shakespeare because I love English, so I felt I should gather a larger understanding of Shakespeare, our dear adopted playwright. I am not going to be an English teacher, and I am not a theatre major, so many would ask why would I, a Public Relations major, want to study Shakespeare?

At first, I thought I had chosen the wrong program. The workshops were more teaching-based, and I believed I could gain nothing from them since they weren’t in regular English course structure – but I was wrong, extremely wrong. The workshops helped me delve into the text of Shakespeare’s plays in ways I would’ve thought wouldn’t work. It was very hands on in a way that made the words come alive. No longer was I focusing on the words we don’t use as much anymore, but I was focusing on the humor and the meaning behind the words. Not only did the hands-on, acting-geared workshops help me understand the text, but I realized I actually love to act in a comfortable environment. The staff made sure to quickly acclimate the students into a comfortable classroom setting in a way that would cause us non-theater majors to enjoy the acting and activities.

Abby Berquist - UGA

I have a newfound appreciation of Shakespeare, and I can even say now that I would be willing to read and watch a Shakespeare play on my own time. I didn’t realize his works would not intimidate me so soon into this program, but I stand here exactly that confident. If I were to teach, I would do it the way the Folger has laid out; people will not fear his works, but enjoy them proficiently.

Abby Bergquist is a third year student at the University of Georgia who is a Public Relations major with an English minor. She is a new Shakespeare convert, who has loved English as long as she can remember, but has just added a whole new element to her love of literature.

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