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Archive for the ‘Hamlet’ Category

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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By Folger Education

 

Hey, everyone! Since you can’t be here for the Secondary School Shakespeare Festival, we thought we’d share some glimpses into all this magic. Here’s what our fabulous Festival-goers have to say about their time with Shakespeare’s language and one another.

 

“When I found out we were performing Shakespeare, I was not sure how I felt. As we rehearsed I started to really enjoy it.”  –Maddie, student

 

“This was my first time at the Folger Festival and my school did Julius Caesar. I really enjoyed working on the Folger stage and getting to see all of the other schools perform their pieces. I especially liked the feedback that we got from the judges. I also had a lot of fun participating in the activities in between pieces. I actually thought those were really helpful because they helped people relax before they had to go onstage. I was a little nervous beforehand, but the people at the Folger made me feel comfortable onstage. I also really liked the awards ceremony. I thought that all of the awards were really creative. Overall, I loved the festival, and I will definitely be coming back next year, whether as an ensemble member or as part of the audience.” – Lela, student

 

“Thank you for the day, and thank you for the opportunity to share our excitement! – Susan, teacher

 

“On the bus ride to the Folger I was nervous, but really excited.”  – Olivia, student

 

“It was an honor to perform one of Shakespeare’s plays. I felt proud of myself for standing up on stage in front of strangers and my family.”  –Sebastian, student

 

“My overall Shakespeare experience was incredible! “  –Hanna, student

 

“Going to the Folger and performing Julius Caesar was truly a special experience.” –Teny, student

 

“I learned there are ‘No small parts.’” –Matthew, student

 

“It was interesting to see how other kids interpreted Shakespeare’s language.”   –Sebastian, student

 

“I thoroughly enjoyed the peer comments. Giving and receiving constructive criticism was rewarding.”  –Jorgen, student

“My favorite acting game was 30 second Hamlet.” –Caroline, student

 

“After our performance it was incredible to receive comments from such accomplished actresses.”  –Beyer, student

 

“My respect towards Shakespeare greatly increased while preparing our play.” –Alex, student

 

“It was exciting to perform on a professional stage and I hope I can do it again.” –Niya, student

 

Thanks again, students and teachers, for bringing your talents and energy to the Folger. We love learning with you!

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By Dan Bruno

"To be or not to be"  (Folger's Luna)

“To be or not to be”, 2004 Folger Shakespeare Library

Often, when talking with colleagues, I find that a difficult part of teaching well-known plays like Hamlet is making the recognizable, highly quotable speeches seem fresh and alive with possibility. Here are some activities to help students discover the originality and complexity of familiar speeches from Shakespeare:

  1. Make It Personal: Have you seen this take on the familiar speech? This parody opens many possibilities for teaching the speech. Consider this: first, your students read Hamlet’s soliloquy aloud, working through the difficult spots where the meaning is shrouded by so many possible variations. Now, show them this or another parody, letting them see what is possible. Then, ask them to pick something about their life as a teenager and to consider it as Hamlet makes his considerations. They could ask: “To date or not to date,” or “To post or not to post.” Afterwards, compare their writings to Hamlet’s original language. Invite a discussion around the central problem and tone of each speech. (Young philosophers especially love this.)
  2. Make It Alien: That’s right, go Jabberwocky on it. Students are familiar with “To be or not to be,” but they have never seen “Iz fi o nit iz fi.” The benefit here is having students analyze the relationships between the words without the intimidation of the unfamiliar language.
  3. Make It Comparative: As master teacher and author Mike LoMonico would say, if you are going to teach Shakespeare, teach Shakespeare. But “modern translations” have their place, in very small doses and with very specific purposes. One of the great ways to use that watered-down approximation of Shakespeare is to reveal how much the language lacks in comparison to the original. For example: “or to fight against all those troubles” just doesn’t have the same epic quality as “take arms against a sea of troubles.” Have students examine the imagery, diction, and figurative language in each version. Let them see for themselves why there’s no substitute for the real thing.
  4. Make It Live: Find tidbits of action in these soliloquies and bring them to life as miniature stage plays. How might one act out the first five lines? Once the plays are over, connect each back to the language of the soliloquy. Now there is a concrete anchor for all of Hamlet’s abstractions.

Hamlet’s famous speech about indecision and existence is a great start, but feel free to try these ideas on any speech from Shakespeare—from Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger…” to Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen…”

 

Dan Bruno has been a high school English teacher for nine years. He has a Master of Education in Social Foundations of Education from the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. He also has a National Board Certification in Adolescent/Young Adult English/Language Arts. In July 2014, Dan was a participant in the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute. He currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two sons. 

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The epiphanies continue! Today is the anniversary of the death of Irish writer James Joyce, whose famous epiphanies, a century later, still inspire conversation and inquiry. (Plus, did you know that Hamlet was a major source for Joyce, who gave a series of lectures on Shakespeare?)

We think it’s fitting, then, today, to offer a second installment of your teaching epiphanies. Read on, get inspired, and keep doing the most important, life-changing work on the planet!

Students  in James Sheridan’s classroom at YesPrep Houston

Students in James Sheridan’s classroom at YesPrep Houston

 

 

Six months later, I still own my TSI monologue; now my students perform to know the joy of owning Shakespeare too.

  • Stefanie Jochman, Wisconsin

 

 

Before we start Shakespeare, I ask if anyone knows how to rap badly.  After we hear a couple of examples, I ask why bad rap is bad rap.  It usually does not take too long to steer the discussion to one of “beats” and rhythm.  Then I ask the students if they have ever been bothered by people not knowing how to pronounce their names. Next I post poetic feet and we figure out which students’ names fit each category.

Here are how some of this year’s names fit: Iamb (- ‘ )  Chrisbel, Rajiv, Shiann, Luis Troche ( ‘ -) Blanca, Louis, Kaitlin, Chandler Spondee  ( ‘  ‘ ) Anna, Dennis, Maya, Manny Anapest (-  –  ‘ ) Netiffah, Alyna (A-lean-a) Dactly ( ‘  –  – ) Emely, Samuel, Stefanie, Jaivonni.  With a playful class, this can go on for more than one day as students purposefully mispronounce names. For many this serves as an epiphany about how rhythm drives how we communicate (and miscommunicate.)

  • Ginny Schmitt DeFrancisci, New York

(more…)

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