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Archive for the ‘Macbeth’ Category

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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By Jill Burdick-Zupancic

 

Midterms.

This word always evokes a bit of panic in my mind. It feels like some kind of “super assessment” I’m expected to give to my students. Even in my seventh year as an educator, it’s a jarring word; however, the past three years, since my experience at the Teaching Shakespeare Institute at the Folger, I’ve started to look at this time of year a little differently.

Of course as English teachers, we want our students reading closely and analyzing text for something – characterization, big questions, effects of figurative language, etc… – and this is the time of year, through Shakespeare, that I assess how far we’ve come from those first days in September. If you’re familiar with the education department at the Folger, or you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve heard “close reading through performance” before. Every year, at midterm time, the power of this statement is solidified for me.

At the time I’m writing this blog, we’re through Act IV of Macbeth. I spend a lot of time with film versions of the play throughout our study, this year it’s Polanski, the Folger production, and Goold’s version for PBS, and while we never watch anything straight through, we’ll look at a specific scene (the opening witches scene, the “dagger” soliloquy, Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene) in each version.

I remind the students that each of these directors has made conscious and analytical decisions regarding anything from movement, facial expressions, pacing and pauses when delivering the lines, costumes, body language, and so on. Now through Act IV, the students do a stellar job identifying choices that these director’s make and discussing why, in the context of the play as a whole, they’re made. (more…)

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As a follow-up to Mark Miazga’s fabulous story about his teaching epiphany, we invited you, our readers, to share revelations from your classrooms, and… wow! You and your students blew us away! Here’s what you had to say:

 

Epiphany in Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: Orsino realizes that the young page Cesario is in fact the woman Viola. Source: Scott Suchman

Epiphany in Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: Orsino realizes that the young page Cesario is in fact the woman Viola. Source: Scott Suchman

My epiphany came when I realized that getting students to act and move would impact them so much more deeply than merely reading. Handing over control to my students became a scary but exhilarating experience as they took the reins and directed their own scenes from The Scottish Play! Over 30 students last February took to the stage at a coffeehouse, performing in front of one hundred peers, family members, and teachers making our annual Shakespeare Festival the best one yet! I am continually amazed by the creativity and daring that students display when given support, freedom, and high expectations.

  • James Sheridan, Texas

(more…)

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Happy holidays, readers! We’ll be on hiatus until January 6, 2015. Check back then for a new post—and have a very merry winter break!

 

By Sara Lehn 

Othello promptbook

Paul Robeson’s promptbook from production of Othello in 1930. (Folger Shakespeare Library)

 

Occasionally, those of us who revere the Bard speak of his works as if they are some sort of holy text. These plays contain such incredible and untouchable genius that it’s sometimes hard not to treat them with awe.

The danger is that once we start to look at a work of literature as something to be revered we cease to see it as something over which we can take ownership.  It is too awe inspiring, and what right have we, peons of the modern educational system, to touch such perfection?

The answer is, of course, that we have every right, and that teaching our students to revere these plays as paintings in a museum, to be seen and not touched, is to put up a wall between inquiring young minds and the very real and lively nature of these plays.  Instead, we need to give students the tools to take these words into their hearts and their minds and truly embrace them.

The need to dig deeply into the language is one reason that performance is such a key element of teaching Shakespeare.  Sometimes, however, jumping directly into performance can be a bit intimidating for shy students.  It can be helpful to offer other ways for students to familiarize themselves with Shakespeare’s language as part of the performance process. (more…)

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By Dana Huff

Act IV, Scene 1 of Macbeth is great fun: the three witches are brewing a “hell-broth” which they will use to conjure the apparitions that talk to Macbeth.

The scene contains some of the most memorable lines of the play and lends itself well to choral reading activities. When I teach this scene, my students create a radio play using podcasting software.

Shakespeare Set Free – Volume 1: Teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth shares a fun lesson plan for teaching this scene, assigning speaking parts and sound effects to students. Podcasting software adds dimensions to this lesson that were not possible when Shakespeare Set Free was originally published.

Chris Shamburg presented a method for using podcasting software and Foley art to create sound effects as part of the Folger’s series of presentations at an NCTE conference in San Antonio in 2008.

Chris brought volunteers up to play the roles of readers and Foley artists. One volunteer broke potato chips in a bowl to mimic the sound of crunching leaves as the witches approached the cauldron, while another volunteer splashed water when the ingredients hit the cauldron.

Two popular options for recording podcasts are Audacity and GarageBand. With software such as Audacity, which is free and can be used on both Windows and Mac machines, students will first need to brainstorm ways to make sound effects. Some ideas include wind blowing, owls hooting, dogs barking, and liquid sloshing as the cauldron stirs.

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75thMacbeth508F-WeirdSisters-small

“Double, double, toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”: The Weird Sisters (Andrew Zox, Cleo House, Jr., and Eric Hissom) in Macbeth at Folger Theatre (2008). Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Chris Lavold

If you are a fan of Folger Education, you are well aware of the focus on performance-based teaching and how getting kids up on their feet is an effective way to understand and appreciate Shakespeare’s plays.

I have found that an excellent complement to this is to view film clips of performances to generate intelligent class discussions. Some of the most interesting and insightful days of my ninth grade Macbeth unit were the days we watched multiple interpretations of the same scene. This also fits the Common Core Standard RL.7  perfectly:

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production…), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.

The clips I mostly use are from the Folger 2008 production and the Polanski 1971 film. For certain scenes I might use the 2006 Australian version, the 2010 BBC version starring Patrick Stewart, or the 1948 Orson Welles film.

On  video analysis days, my class uses Michael LoMonico’s video expert sheet. I break the students up into four or five groups. Each group has five individual jobs, and each student in the group will do their task while watching the film clips.

  • The screenwriters follow the text and write notes about which lines were omitted or rearranged.
  • The cinematographers watch the camera angles and lighting. They ask questions such as  “Is the lighting trying to portray a theme?  Does a low camera angle tell the viewer someone is in an authoritative position?”
  • The sound editors are not allowed to watch the clip. They must have their backs to the screen and write down sounds they hear. Examples would be natural background sounds like a dog barking or the wind blowing. They also observe what the music tells us about what may be taking place on the screen.
  • The set and costume designers pay attention to the location, costumes, and props. This is always fun to talk about during the opening witch scene in Macbeth or the banquet scene where Banquo’s ghost appears.
  • The last group are the actors who concentrate on an actor’s performance paying close attention to accents, tone, subtext, and emphasis on certain words or lines.

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Performance helps bring Shakespeare alive, and listening to his words being spoken brings them off the page and into a new relevance for students.

With the Folger Shakespeare Library launching a new series of Shakespeare audio editions, teachers now have access to unabridged texts from the gold standard Folger Editions performed by a full cast of Shakespearean actors and expertly produced by Folger Theatre.

“We know that Shakespeare’s plays were written with the human voice – an actor’s voice – in mind, which is why it is so important to encounter the Folger Editions with one’s ears as well as eyes,” says Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “These recordings offer ‘another way in’ to Shakespeare’s plays by offering powerful audio performances.”

The series has launched with five of Shakespeare’s most popular plays: Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet.

These audio editions, available from Simon & Schuster Audio on CD or for download, can be used together with Folger Digital Texts, an online searchable resource that provides the Folger Editions text of 38 Shakespeare plays.

Check out the Folger Shakespeare Library website to learn more and to listen to excerpts.

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