Archive for the ‘Hamlet’ Category

By Aleksander Zywicki

Alex Zywicki in front of the Folger. (Image: Alex Zywicki)

Alex Zywicki in front of the Folger. (Image: Alex Zywicki)


This past July, I had the great fortune of attending the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Summer Academy in Washington, D.C.


There, I attended lectures given by master teachers and scholars; I played the part of the Ghost in a performance of Act One of Hamlet; I held—in these two hands—Walt Whitman’s copy of the Sonnets, a letter written and signed by Henry David Thoreau, and an authentic First Folio; though, mostly, I learned in a way that I had not, in years.


I cannot honestly say that I have ever learned during the typical professional development opportunities that I have been offered. I have never been inspired by a webinar, nor have I been pushed towards daring, original thoughts during a mandatory workshop. I have been informed of products. I was told about strategies.


However, teachers know what learning looks and feels like and it does not resemble the buying and selling of a gimmick. It requires a seemingly impossible level of concentration, desire, fear and motivation. It demands that a person grow comfortable with continuously dismantling an intricate and delicate level of understanding that had once been declared, “finished,” only to be rebuilt again, and again.


Throughout my education I was taught to want to learn and that experience made me want to teach others to do the same. When I left Washington, I felt confident in my ability to do so, in a way that I had never known before.




What had convinced me so thoroughly that the skills I was learning at the Folger could lead to authentic learning for my students, was that they emphasized student engagement with Shakespeare’s words—not a watered down alternative to his words; not theories that attempt to unravel his words; just his words.


One of the lessons I appreciated most is titled “3-D Shakespeare.” It gets students right inside a scene, and puts that scene on its feet.


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By David Fulco


Students performing the Dumb Show from Hamlet . (Image: David Fulco)

Students performing the Dumb Show from Hamlet . (Image: David Fulco)

At the end of TSI 2014, I made a pledge that I would not read the syllabus to my class on the first day of school.


After a summer collaborating with some of the most innovative teachers in the country, it did seem a shame that I would return to my classroom and fall back into the trap, albeit a safe trap, of

going over rules and regulations, expectations and procedures on that first day.


Couldn’t the first 45 minutes of the year be used for a better purpose? Shouldn’t the first 45 minutes of the year be used for a better purpose?


(What does it say about me that I hear Peggy O’Brien’s voice in my head when I ask myself those questions before the start of each school year?)


For the past two years I have asked my 10th grade students at The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the South Bronx, New York City to perform Tableaux Vivants on the first day of school. As a reference for our still life poses, I use the original text of the Dumb Show from Hamlet (3.2.144-156). That the students aren’t familiar with Hamlet or won’t read Hamlet as sophomores, is not a problem. The Dumb Show stands alone, allowing you to discuss as much, or as little, about Hamlet as you would like.


What I do:


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By Emma Remsberg


At the end of June, I started my internship at the Folger Shakespeare Library. It was an exciting and busy time for the Education office, every spare table space being used to house an intern.


Reflecting on my internship, it’s hard to choose a favorite part. I love the milieu of the Education office—fun, smart, and very witty – and I really enjoy the work that I’ve been doing with museum programs. But perhaps most of all, I am incredibly grateful for all of the opportunities that I’ve had to explore the Folger as an institution. Being able to delve into the “nooks and crannies” of the Folger was super exciting, and I’m really glad to have had that chance.


For instance, every two weeks I attended the “Practical Paleography” workshops hosted by EMMO. They’re very fun, helped me to brush up on my Latin over the summer, and introduced me to secretary hand (which utterly baffled me at first, and still does – but in a fun way).


I was also assigned a Reading Room project (finding examples of the “To Be” speech in American culture). I cannot fully express how thrilling it was to be in the Reading Room of the Folger, to work with rare materials, to have my own shelf right next to the stained glass window depicting the Seven Ages of Man. The Reading Room is hands-down my favorite physical space in the Folger. I think I could happily live there forever, but for now I’m content just to do research.


What else? I got to operate a Gutenberg-style printing press – setting my name in type, inking the form, rolling the paper through the press, etc. I went to afternoon teas and chatted with readers about their research. I sat in on fascinating lectures and workshops with faculty of the Summer Academy, which brought 29 teachers from around the country here to the Folger for a week on Hamlet.


The Education team encouraged me to take advantage of any opportunities that appealed to me, so I did. I spent my summer not only learning about museum education but also exploring everything the Folger offers, doing things I never could have dreamed of when I submitted my application. I’ll miss this internship, miss the folks in Education, miss being immersed head to toe in Shakespeare. But at least I know that when I return to school, I’ll be able to do so with reinvigorated enthusiasm about the Bard, a “Folger Library loves me” T-shirt, and a whole lot of stories to tell.


Emma Remsberg is the Museum Programs Intern at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She studies Greek, Latin, and Medieval Studies at Swarthmore College. She just started dabbling in paleography.

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By Casey Christenson


“Yeaahhhhhh, a close reading.  So, liiiikkkkkeeeee, what do you mean?”


Inevitably and understandably this is a strategy I must visit and revisit with my students each year. This time it’s while I’m handing out photocopies of Barbara Ascher’s “On Compassion,” and it has only been about twenty-four hours since the last time I was asked to explain my expectation.  “It will probably look different for each of you.  It’s evidence of your engagement with the text.  It’s kind of like having a conversation with a piece of writing.” I’m always okay with the uncomfortable looks on my kids’ faces.  What does a close read look like, and more importantly FEEL like, for a seventeen-year-old anyway?


When I consider how intimidating it must be for a young reader to personally engage with a piece of writing, I remember what it felt like to stand on the Folger stage for the first time.  Sure, I’d probably read Hamlet’s lines at least two dozen times on my own and with my students, but standing on the stage where actual performers became Hamlet was incredibly overwhelming.  How was I, in all my non-actor ways, going to BE Hamlet and deliver my lines to the beautiful Ophelia?  Enter prompt book assignment stage left.

Paul Robeson's Othello prompt book.

Paul Robeson’s prompt book for Othello. (Image: Folger Shakespeare Library)


As my partner Chasidy and I read through our assigned script together, our observations and questions came naturally: How would Hamlet say this?  What would he be doing? What would Ophelia’s body language say?  The experience was about nothing more than piecing together what we knew to be true about our beloved characters and bringing them to life as we came to know them.  Our own past encounters played a role, but our prompt books were the evidence of OUR conversation with Hamlet.


My week at the Folger reminded me of how vulnerable we can be with a text if we so choose.  Our experience with a piece of literature is so incredibly personal.  I’m grateful I got to be a student again and was reminded of the process that opens us up to the worlds our favorite writers create for us.


Do my students fully understand this amazing process? Not so much, but if they realize it’s less about the grade, and more about implementing a strategy that will enable them to having a potentially meaningful conversation with the works created by some of the greatest writers ever to put pen to paper, I’ll take a smudged, over-highlighted, but closely read, photocopy of “On Compassion” any day.



Casey Christenson teaches AP Literature and American Literature at Northview High School in Johns Creek, GA.  She was a participant in Folger’s Summer Academy 2015 during which time she felt a lot of feels.  Casey is human to two dogs, two cats, and two frogs, likes the color blue, and thoroughly enjoys writing ridiculous biographies about herself.

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By Jill Burdick-Zupancic



Ophelia. (Image: Folger Library)

As summer (too quickly) comes to a close, I’m filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety. What will my students be like? Will what worked last year work again this year? What can I do to make this year a successful and engaging one? Big questions. No easy answers. But, here are some basics I’ll when starting a new school year with the Bard.


    • Start Early – I’ve started each of the past three school years with “2-line scenes.” It’s an easy activity to create: find some of those famous zingers – insults or notable lines – from any of Shakespeare’s works, give one line to each student (preferably from different works), have the kids get in pairs, and ask them to create a scene! This does a number of fantastic things early in the year. First, it gets the kids out of their seats during a monotonous week of syllabi review. Second, it gets them building the classroom community by learning the norms of performance (however they choose to set those). Third, it forces them to think creatively to create a new context using Shakespeare’s words. I’ll use this on day one, but I think any time the first week works well. You’ll have exposed your students to Shakespeare early, and chances are they’ll come across some of those lines again as you approach longer texts throughout the year.


    • Variety – Most of us spend a great deal of our year studying literature, and we love it! But, I find my students’ attention waning when we’re studying a longer text. Consider your objectivesand try to insert small pieces of Shakespeare throughout the year. Want the students to explore tone? Check out Claudius’ speech from Act I, Scene 2 of Hamlet. Analyzing imagery? Also from Hamlet is Gertrude’s retelling of Ophelia’s death – a great choice! Teaching the kids about persuasion? How about that powerful interaction between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the end of Act I? Whatever you choose to use, just because you’re not sitting down to tackle an entire play doesn’t mean you can’t spice up some Chaucer, Twain, Hurston, or Hemingway with a little Shakespeare!


    • Confidence – Yes, be confident in yourself, but also be confident that your kids will get Shakespeare, they will connect to Shakespeare, and they will like Shakespeare. He’s still around in our classrooms and throughout the world outside our classrooms because he’s relevant, and kids will understand that with you as their guide.

Cheers to the start of another exciting school year!


Jill Burdick-Zupancic is beginning her eighth year as an educator and currently teaches Honors English and AP Art History at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA. She is a Member of the Folger National Teaching Corps and a Teaching Shakespeare Institute (TSI) alumna from 2012. Jill can be reached at jeburdickzup@fcps.edu.

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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)


    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.


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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