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Archive for the ‘Hamlet’ Category

By Deborah Gascon

When I introduced myself as one of the master teachers (the other was the fabulous Michael LoMonico) to the 29 teachers participating in the Folger’s first Summer Academy, I told them the Folger was a magical place.  I thought about the unicorn painted on a screen on the ceiling of the Folger theater and the quote around it from As You Like It:  “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”  A magical and mysterious image surrounded by magical, mysterious words.

 

This indescribable magic was a feeling I felt during my first experience at the Folger in 2012 that I just couldn’t express or convey through words (mine or Shakespeare’s) during the academy introductions.  But a week later, after five very long and very full 12-hour days, every participant came to understand that magic and mystery that my words couldn’t describe, and I was privileged, once again, to see how Folger Education can transform a teacher’s life, his/her students’ lives and classroom practice.

 

I knew that to help everyone understand that magic and the mystery in our short week of the Summer Academy, some work would be involved.  And boy, did we work.

Hamlet's speech from Quarto One. (Image: Deborah Gascon)

Hamlet’s speech from Quarto One. (Image: Deborah Gascon)

 

We read.  We read Hamlet (using the 3-D Shakespeare strategy described here). Then we read Hamlet again and compared the Quarto One “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy which doesn’t include “that is the question” but rather “I there’s the point.”  Yep.  It was changed!  Then we read the 1604 version of Hamlet.  Then we read the 1623 First Folio version of Hamlet.  I think you get the point about how much we read.  But with every reading came deeper understanding and a closer connection with Shakespeare’s words.

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Summer Academy participant Jennie Brown shares her experience at the mid-way point of Summer Academy 2015 which took place from July 5-10, 2015. 

By Jennie Brown

Jennie Brown arrives at Summer Academy 2015 (Image: Jennie Brown)

Jennie Brown arriving at Summer Academy 2015 (Image: Jennie Brown)

Where do I even begin to describe my experience so far (only on day 3!) of the Teaching Shakespeare Institute’s Summer Academy 2015 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC?!  Mind-blowing, awesome, humbling, exciting, the list goes on and on.

From workshops with theater professionals and esteemed educators to sword-fighting (yes, I said sword-fighting) on the lawn, to classes with Folger scholars and master teachers to interacting with the Folger collection of rare books, this is one week that will never be forgotten. Below, I’ve put together some of the highlights of this journey so far. [If you know me, you know you’ll find pictures below as well!]

  1. Amazing Teachers: There are 28 amazing, like-minded, Shakespeare-crazed teachers here with me at the Folger Library, and every single one has a passion for bringing the best of Shakespeare–his words–and ways to teach his language back to the classroom.
  2. Hands-on Teaching Workshops: Where do I even start with this? Mike LoMonico opened the week discussing Shakespeare’s language; he had us on our feet addressing one another in Shakespearean terms of endearment (even though some sounded more like insults). We worked with him and with his fellow Folger master teacher Debbie Gascon (who is amazing!) on close-reading strategies that can be applied not only to Shakespeare’s works, but all other units of
    Jennie Brown on the Folger stage. (Image: James Brantley)

    Jennie Brown on the Folger stage. (Image: James Brantley)

    study.

    Both LoMo’s and Debbie’s work and the plethora of strategies and teaching material they gave us will be used in my classroom, and in all of our classrooms throughout the country. Without doubt!

  3. Amazing Lectures from Scholars: The director of the Folger Library, Dr. Michael Witmore, spoke with us after “homeroom” on day two about thedigital direction in which the Folger is moving, and showed us new digital tools that give us a whole new way to look at the plays.Professor Sandy Mack had me questioning everything I thought I knew about Hamlet, and his old world vs. new world discussion — mind-blowing!  I could hear that man lecture every day!
  4. Folger Education Faculty and Staff. Honestly, I was nervous and intimidated when we first arrived at dinner on Sunday night. But after the first thirty minutes, Peggy O’Brien and Corinne Viglietta had welcomed all of us into the Folger family with open arms, immediately putting me (and many others) at ease.
  5. Acting Workshops. I haven’t been on the stage in years, and the workshops with Michael Tolaydo and Caleen Jennings made me see just how much Shakespeare’s words come to life when spoken on the stage. This will happen in all of our classrooms!

    Jennie Brown in the New Reading Room. (Image: James Brantley)

    Jennie Brown in the New Reading Room. (Image: James Brantley)

  6. Rare Materials. TOUCHED. A. FIRST. FOLIO. Do I really need to say anything more?

 

So, basically EVERY SINGLE THING we’ve done so far has made the list of highlights. This is truly an experience I will NEVER forget, and thanks to everyone at the Folger for this opportunity! From the faculty and staff, to the librarians, guest speakers, and security guards! You have ALL made this such an enjoyable experience for me.

AND DID I MENTION, WE ARE ONLY JUST STARTING DAY 4?!

I can’t wait to see what else is in store for us!

Jennie Brown teaches 9th grade English at Annville-Cleona Secondary School, Annville, PA. She can be found at @jenniekaywrites on Twitter.

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By Folger Education

Last week 29 teachers joined for a week-long Summer Academy on Hamlet. Check out how much fun we had.

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By Greta Brasgalla 

 

This year, I became the English Instructional Coach at my school. My job includes creating and modeling lessons for a huge English department (we have over 3000 students in grades 10-12).

 

One of the best activities that I modeled was using the prompt book. Of all of the Folger activities, this is probably my favorite because it can be modified easily for any reading you do in the classroom.

 

More can be found here: Editing as Close-Reading: Cutting and Performing Complex Texts

 

For our Senior teachers, we used a version of the prompt book/tableaux for students to break down their reading of Paradise Lost. Each group was in charge of creating a tableau for the section of the poem. I  gave the teacher my special “prop box” filled with random wigs, costumes, and other props. Eventually, my prop box was passed throughout the English hallway as students did prompt books on Jane Eyre, King Lear, and Taming of the Shrew.

 

For one of our staff developments,  I  modified the prompt book for each grade level’s drama selection: Antigone, Streetcar Named Desire, and Macbeth/Hamlet. The teacher’s loved this activity because it was a new way to look at close reading. We are inundated with data that suggests close reading is the best activity for students, but many teachers have a hard time teaching this and keeping their students engaged. Prompt books not only teach the necessary skills for close reading (identifying key elements, tone, character) but they also keep the students engaged. My students have never had more fun than when they were performing their cut scenes, chapters, sections of a text.

Students close read The Masque of the Red Death (Image: Greta Brasgalla)

Students close read The Masque of the Red Death (Image: Greta Brasgalla)

Finally,  I  was also in charge of planning our Fall Intersession. This is a week long session to remediate students who have failed state assessments. These are our most at-risk students. They don’t want to be at school during vacation and they pose disciplinary challenges. Even though these students need the most engaging lessons, remediation most often entails lots of worksheets and boring seatwork.  I  resolved that we would change that this year. I  paired our English teachers with our Theater teacher and each level did a prompt book and performance of an Edgar Allan Poe story. We combined each short story with a poem as well. The kids had a great time and guess what? No discipline issues. We also got them to do a close reading of a very difficult piece of literature. Below is a picture of their performance of The Masque of the Red Death.

 

Next time you want students to tackle a scene (Shakespeare or otherwise), consider using a prompt book activity. Get out your own prop box and watch the magic happen!

 

Greta Brasgalla is an English Curriculum and Intervention Coach at El Dorado High School in El Paso, Texas.

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By Michael LoMonico

 

I recently interviewed Russ McDonald, professor of English at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Russ was a resident scholar at the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute from 1985-Bedford - LoMo1986, and served as the head scholar from 1988-1994. He is the author of The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents and the recent Bedford Shakespeare.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation.


 

ML:  At the Teaching Shakespeare Institute in 1988, you lectured about the tragic flaw, and wrote an essay about it called “The Flaw in the Flaw” which appears in the first volume of Shakespeare Set Free.  I suspect that many teachers aren’t teaching the tragic flaw when they teach Shakespeare but some still are. Can you explain why they shouldn’t?

RUSS:  I have to attribute a lot of this to an article by Phyllis Rose.  She wrote an article in the New York Times in the 1980s that I responded to immediately on this very problem, which is that the idea of a flaw that brings down the heroic/tragic character is just too easy a way of addressing a really complicated representation of human experience.  That is, if you simply say, ” Hamlet delays.  Hamlet cannot make up his mind.”  I mean, the beginning of the Olivier film says, “This is the story of a man who could not make up his mind.”  Well, no, it’s not.

ML: Please explain.

RUSS: Throughout the middle of the 20th century, that seems to be a common way of addressing the tragic experience for teachers and the problem with it is that it reduces to a kind of formula something that is much more complicated and much more interesting.  I don’t think we’d still be watching these plays or reading them with the fervor that we still do if it were as simple as that formula of the tragic flaw seems to make it.  Hamlet, for example, that it’s just a problem of procrastination.  Hamlet can’t make up his mind.  He delays. And the same with Othello.  You know, Othello’s just jealous.  If he weren’t so jealous, everything would be fine.

Bedford 2 - LoMoThe problem is first, it simplifies matters too much.  And second, it implies a kind of moral or ethical superiority on the part of the reader or the audience.  That is, “I’m okay, Hamlet’s not.  If I had been there to tell him to get with the program, then he wouldn’t have had that problem at all.”  And so what it means is that it allows us to feel superior to the character when, in fact, of course, what is important is that we be involved with the experience of the character.

I tend to think of the tragic figure or I try to get my students to think of the tragic figure as a kind of naïve idealist.  That’s one way of thinking about most of the tragic figures.  King Lear, for example, is naïve in that he’s 80 years old, but he’s an innocent in a way.  He thinks that words and meanings match each other, so when his daughter says, “I love you more than eyesight, more than words can wield the matter,” he thinks she means it.  And his belief that people do mean what they say is an admirable and beautiful principle.  But it’s flawed.  I mean, I hate to use the word “flaw,” but it’s a problem.

ML: How is it a problem?

RUSS:  It’s a good problem.  The world would be better if things were that way.  But that’s Lear’s particular problem.  The same thing with Hamlet.  Hamlet wants to know the truth and he wants to act ethically, rightly, on that truth.  And the world keeps putting baffles in front of him.  That’s exactly the problem.  The world will not allow the tragic character to proceed as he or she wishes to do.  Antigone is really the great example of this.  Antigone works so well in thinking about this, because she’s not flawed.  She wants to give a burial to her brothers.

ML:  Right; so Macbeth is just ambitious.

RUSS:  That man’s ambitious.  Exactly.

 

Michael LoMonico taught English for 33 years. He is currently the National Education Consultant for Folger Education and the author or That Shakespeare Kid.

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By Folger Education

 

According to students at Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, a lot.

When Ashley Bessicks’ students finished their Hamlet unit, her 10th grade students at Phelps ACE High School, a DC public school, were on fire for Shakespeare. They wanted to know more about this play and the man who wrote it, so we worked with Ashley, who studied here last summer, to arrange for a special field trip. On June 8th, the students visited the Folger, where they took a tour of the historic building and its current exhibition, performed on our stage, and—this is pretty extraordinary—got up close with some rare books from the collection: Paul Robeson’s promptbook for Othello, versions of Hamlet from 1603, 1604/5, and 1623, John Barrymore’s promptbook for Hamlet, Ortellius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, and more.

Here’s what the Phelps students—who are pretty extraordinary themselves—had to say about studying Shakespeare at school and at the Folger this year. We feel so honored to have worked with Ashley and her impressive students!

Damola:

The Hamlet play in class and the trip to the Folger Library was a great experience for me that I believe strongly helped me in numerous ways, from the Hamlet essay I had to write for class to the finals. The play we performed in class gave me a better and clearer understanding of the whole story because I played the role of Hamlet in my scene, and the collaboration with my group team helped me to feel and actually understand the real story.  I was able to portray the character of Hamlet in my scene to the best of my knowledge and that helped me understand most of his emotional problems he had and how he made the poor decisions to expose his family’s secrets and to confront his mom.

The trip to the Folger Library gave me another view of Shakespeare and why he chose to write his plays and other literary poems the way he did. I learned about Mr. and Mrs. Folger and how their love for Shakespeare encouraged the building of a library and importing different works that he wrote. Finally the whole experience which included the acting, reading, and trip was so fantastic that it made me develop a love for Shakespeare too.

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Anika:

Hamlet was an interesting play. It included drama, comedy and heart clenching events. It was remarkable. Not only this, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson from Hamlet. I learned that adversities can either make you stronger or make you weak. When facing adversities true colors are revealed based on how you react to what’s going on. In Hamlet’s case, he became crazy.

In addition, learning how to act for a play was an unforgettable experience.  We engaged in multiple activities and games. We did this to get prepared, and to put on our acting shoes. This was great, especially for someone like me. I’ve never been to a play or acted in one, and to be involved in a famous play and learn techniques to help me act and understand stage actions were amazing. I am glad I had the chance to act out the play Hamlet.

Chelsea:

My experience with working with the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, in Mrs. Bessicks’ class was fun and informational.  When we divided up the scenes and started working in groups to pick our setting and our costumes we got into the mind Shakespeare and the characters he created. It makes you think where the scene would take place. And how it would affect the character/s. It opens your mind and gives you a measureless understanding of how each character is feeling and why they are feeling that way.

I would recommend that when it comes to teaching plays in high school that working with them like the way we did with Hamlet would benefit all students. Learning this way gave us a chance to be the character and analyze how that character became the person that they are in a specific scene, which in the end then causes us to be more interested in what we are learning. I believe that working with Hamlet this way helped me have a deeper understanding of the play even though I had read it before.

 

Ashley Bessicks is an English teacher in DC Public Schools and an alum of the Teaching Shakespeare Institute 2014.

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 By Peggy O’Brien

At St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s 2015 commencement, Michael Tolaydo—both in honor of his long and distinguished career there and in honor of the graduating class—was asked to send

Michael Tolaydo (Image: Peggy O'Brien)

Michael Tolaydo (Image: Peggy O’Brien)

the graduates off into their futures with some Shakespeare.  We share it with you here because he is an important part of the Folger Education family.  His knowledge, creativity, guidance, and humor have enabled countless teachers across the country to up their teaching Shakespeare game—and will continue to do so. 

On a beautiful May morning, overlooking the St. Mary’s River, this is what he said:

 

CONGRATULATIONS GRADUATES!  Soon after you leave St. Mary’s College, you will– in the months and years to come–have many interviews and meetings with folks who are looking for employees.  I want to remind you that too often we try to impress the interviewer by presenting what we think they are looking for.  And in doing so, we interpret what we think are signals in their facial expressions and tone of voice.  When we react to those signals, we end up presenting  a mixed image and presence of who WE are.

Your strength is in you. Not the mask you think that you need to project.  The genuineness of who you really are is more powerful than any mask you might project as you are trying to please.

Great actors do not ‘make believe.”

Great actors make YOU believe.

The best advice I know that reminds me of this is from Shakespeare:  Hamlet’s advice to the players (3.2.1):

 

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced
it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth
it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and
beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O,
it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious,
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very
rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the
most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable
dumb shows and noise. I would have such a fellow
whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It out-Herods
Herod. Pray you, avoid it.

Be not too tame neither, but let your own
discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the
word, the word to the action, with this special
observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of
nature. For anything so o’erdone is from the purpose
of playing, whose end, both at the first and
now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to
nature, to show virtue her own  feature, scorn her
own image, and the very age and body of the time
his form and pressure. Now this overdone or come
tardy off, though it makes the unskillful laugh,
cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure
of the  which one must in your allowance o’erweigh
a whole theater of others. O, there be players that I
have seen play and heard others praise  (and that
highly), not to speak it profanely, that, neither
having th’ accent of strangers nor the gait of
woman, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and
bellowed that I have thought some of nature’s
journeymen had made men, and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.
O, reform it altogether. And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for
them, for there be of them that will themselves
laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators
to laugh too, though in the meantime some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered.
That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it.

Go make you ready.

 

(slightly edited)

 

Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger or send her an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

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