Archive for the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Category

This post originally appeared on Making a Scene on December 13, 2012


~by Gina Voskov

My first experience with Shakespeare was in 4th grade. I was asked to play the part of Celia in As You Like It for a Shakespeare festival. I can safely say that at the time I had no idea what I was doing or who Shakespeare was or why I had been asked to be in a festival, but 20-something years later, I remember the experience vividly. I wore a red velvet dress with a white lace collar, white tights, and black patent leather shoes. They were the most Shakespearean things I had in my closet in rural Vermont and even though they were technically my Christmas clothes, I put them on in the springtime to perform:  “I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry.”


I wish I could say that my 4th grade experience with Shakespeare set me on a course to love and study the Bard, but it did not. He quickly fell off my radar and didn’t appear back on it until my 9th grade year when we read Romeo and Juliet, and then again the next year when we read Julius Caesar. I think if it hadn’t been for Julius Caesar, I would have given him a chance, but the experience of reading that stupid play set me on a course to hate and avoid the Bard–we did worksheets and talked about caesuras and sat in our seats and read aloud. I vowed I would never again pick up a Shakespeare play, and was successful in keeping that vow. Until, that is, I needed to finish my English degree and the whole thing hinged on a single Shakespeare course. Do I really need to tell you about my anger when I realized I couldn’t graduate without taking a class about the one writer I hated more than anyone? Maybe it was my professor, or maybe it was the choice of texts she had us read or the way she led us through the conflicts and tensions and beauty of the plays, but that course changed everything. It was while sitting in our classroom on a spring day after reading Titus Andronicus that I realized I needed to be a teacher. Not because it was what all English majors would likely end up doing but because I needed to share Shakespeare. And the best way I could figure how to do that was by becoming a teacher.



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By Sara Lehn

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth (Image: StudioCanal)

“Who would you choose?  Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Fassbender?”


“But have you seen the new Michael Fassbender trailer?  It looks amazing!”


It is the first meeting of the school year for my Shakespeare Society’s Executive Board.  Although it has been months since we all met, our table is brimming with enthusiasm, excitement, and fresh ideas for how to bring Shakespeare to our school’s population.  And, of course, a debate on which would make a better field trip: Benedict Cumberbatch’s live theater broadcast of Hamlet or Michael Fassbender’s upcoming film of Macbeth.  There is clearly some dissent in the ranks.


Several years ago, a group of students started an application for a new Shakespeare club in our high school.  I was not a part of the initial process, but I was lucky enough to be able to step in and help them to pursue their goal.  Last September their efforts came to fruition, and I became the advisor of the new Shakespeare Society.


We started out simply: the 30-second Macbeth, Slugs and Clods, light-hearted activities to provide a little laughter and fun.  We planned a movie night and spent a wonderful Friday evening curled up on the floor of our study center with blankets and pillows and slices of pizza.  As the year progressed and our school’s annual Shakespeare Festival approached, we chose and rehearsed scenes and planned audience-participation activities.  The festival culminated our first year together, and left me looking forward to continuing the expansion of our club.


Students don’t have to love Shakespeare to join our Shakespeare Society. In fact, several of my club members openly profess that they are not particularly big fans.  (more…)

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By Jennie K. Brown


Jennie K Brown's class reads Shakespeare. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)

Jennie K Brown’s class reads Shakespeare. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)

After my summer experience at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I decided that I was going to get my students up and moving around my classroom in some sort of Shakespeare activity within the first three days of school. And guess what? I did just that!

On day two of the new school year, I ditched the rules and procedures protocol, and instead, each of my classes participated in a Shakespeare compliment activity (an activity that I first experienced first-hand this summer). I do something similar to this in March when we begin Romeo and Juliet; however, instead of Shakespeare compliments, they spew Shakespeare insults at one another. I never thought this was something my 9th students could handle on day 2, but I was totally wrong! (more…)

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We revisit Julia Perlowski’s active lesson surrounding Romeo and Juliet‘s Prologue from 2014.


By Julia Perlowski 

William Fox presents Theda Bara in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, 1916. Folger Shakespeare Library.

William Fox presents Theda Bara in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, 1916. Folger Shakespeare Library.

If the use of Shakespeare’s early modern English is under attack in some “regular” and “honors” English classrooms, just think about what the reaction might be to the use of such rigorous text in an Intensive Reading class!

At Pompano Beach High School, I am not only the ONLY drama teacher, I am also the ONLY reading teacher. I teach all levels of reading from grades 9-12. While I am producing Romeo and Juliet in the auditorium during fourth period with my drama students, I am reading the same texts way out in portable 3 during first and second periods with my striving readers.

I believe that a text does not have to be changed among students of a variety of abilities… just the TASKS! One may “perform” Shakespeare by acting it out or by engaging in ANY activity that requires one to read closely and critically to execute the task. With struggling readers, there is great power in reading and re-reading and re-reading, for that is how even the best of readers grasps meaning, nuances, and depth.

Here is the “performance” task around the R&J Prologue for my Intensive Reading Class:


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By Folger Education

This post you’re about to read was viewed, shared, and liked more than almost any other on our blog last school year. Since its original publication, both Debbie Gascon, the high school teacher who wrote it, and Folger staff, have heard from teachers all over the country who loved—and tried out, to great results—Debbie’s ideas. If you’re looking for a way to make your classroom joyful, active, collaborative, and, yes, just the right kind of challenging—right from day 1—look no further. Try out a few of Debbie’s tested strategies for getting students on their feet and into complex texts in minutes. And let us know how it all goes: shoot Corinne Viglietta an email at cviglietta@folger.edu. Wishing you and your students a happy, productive return to school!


Eighteen years ago, days before my first year teaching began, my principal gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard about the first day of school. She simply said, “Make the students want to come back.” She told me to forget the syllabus and classroom procedures—the students won’t retain those rules and did I really want my first impression to be about how to ask for the bathroom pass?

As suggested, I followed through with my hopefully-memorable plans on that first day. When I ate dinner that night (in my pjs because I was so exhausted!) I had visions of my eighth graders at their dinner tables telling their families about their invigorating English class. I’m still not sure if that happened, but they all came back the next day with smiles on their faces and eager to learn. They were optimistic. And so was I.

With that advice in mind, on the first day of school for the past two years I’ve incorporated Folger performance methods in my lesson plans.  What a difference this has made. No longer were my sleepy seniors glaring at me (and the clock) and no longer were my freshmen struggling to sit still in a desk after a summer of hyperactivity.  Instead, students were on their feet, participating and laughing (and learning!).

Here are some quick methods to get the students up on their feet and loving the first day (and every day after!) in your classroom:


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By Folger Education


We’re lucky to have four fabulous summer interns with us at Folger Education—not just because they’re working hard to support our gazillion projects, but because they’re making sharp observations about their time here and the future of teaching and learning. We thought you should hear what they have to say, so we asked them some big questions and are sharing their responses.

Folger Education Interns: Jareema Hylton, Henry Newton, Jack Ludwig and Emma Remsberg. (Image: Folger Library)

Folger Education Interns: Jareema Hylton, Henry Newton, Jack Ludwig and Emma Remsberg. (Image: Folger Library)


Q.     When did the Shakespeare bug bite you?

Jareema:      “My love of Shakespeare started in my freshman year of high school. I was required to read Julius Caesar, and I was fully prepared to shrug off the great Shakespeare. But the language, the characters, and the rich history were more than formidable opponents for my cynicism. I fell in love, consumed by reciting soliloquies on the bus, in my house, and inevitably in the classroom. When I read The Taming of the Shrew that same year, I was absolutely smitten. And, on those terms, I learned a thing or two about love. Following a study of Shakespeare’s poetry, Bro. Martin, my then English teacher, slapped the table and uttered in his signature deadpan, “Ladies, don’t ever be with a man unless he can write you a sonnet.” Extreme…maybe. Still, it was that kind of passion that made me especially fond of the comedy and the tragedy this playwright is capable of cultivating, inside and outside of his pages.”

Henry:      “The Shakespeare bug bit me in about eighth grade when I had my first real Shakespeare experience with the text. Before that, I’d read some Shakespeare and been taught it in English class, but the experience of focusing on nothing but Shakespeare for a month was truly enlightening. I had the chance to learn from an exceptional teacher in Mr. Craig MacDougall who really brought Romeo and Juliet to life in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. Through impromptu performances (which I, admittedly, was hesitant to participate in at first) and creative activities that exposed to me the beauty of Shakespeare’s language, I was hooked.”


Q.     What is the coolest thing you’ve seen or done so far at the Folger? 

Jack:      “Sifting through the Folger Editions of Shakespeare’s plays searching for scenes for teacher workshops. I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but is there anything better than reading Shakespeare all day?”

Emma:      “Interning at the Folger means that I get to combine my interest in museums and education with my love of Shakespeare. Since I started last week, I’ve geeked out nearly every day: when I saw a First Folio, when I glimpsed a preview of next year’s exhibits (they’re super exciting), etc, etc. Even when I’m just at my desk, the work is fun – I had a great time yesterday hunting down quotes.”

Henry:      “The coolest thing that I’ve done at the Folger during my internship here has been my work on the Teaching Modules available for teachers to use in their classrooms. This was most interesting thing that I’ve done here because it provided a tangible link to the educational experience of so many students that could find the same passion and form the same connections that I did, for through similar materials, I myself found my Shakespearean passion.”


Q.     What’s one thing you want your peers to know about the Folger?

Emma:      “One thing that I think is important with regards to my generation is to not let Shakespeare be written off as old, dull, and dusty (as I have seen several of my peers do) – I think that everyone has a capacity for appreciating Shakespeare.”

Jareema:      “While this may sound silly, I want my peers (and everyone) to know that the Folger is free! It is such an amazing institution comprised of many parts (museum, reading room, theatre, etc.), which happens to be conveniently located in our nation’s capital. So many other major cities are home to wonderful museums and observatories that charge hefty entrance fees. But here, Shakespeare is available to the public at no cost. There is no reason not to visit and share in this wonderful experience!”

Henry:      “The one thing that I would like my peers to know about the Folger is that it’s not just that place that you stopped by on your eight-grade trip to Washington D.C. It’s a diverse and fascinating collection of important Shakespearean materials that is truly important, even today. “


Q.     What’s one big way you expect your generation to contribute to the teaching and learning of Shakespeare?

Jareema:      “I expect my generation to contribute a more culturally and socially diverse way of teaching and learning Shakespeare. As public opinion and society changes on various issues of equality and personal freedom, literary interpretations can only grow in parallel richness.”

Jack:      “I am determined to be a member of my generation who will completely revolutionize the ways future generations will learn about Shakespeare.”
Check back later for more insights from these engaged young people!


Jareema Hylton serves as the Teaching Shakespeare Intern. Currently, she assists in organizing the Summer Academy 2015, gathering school data, and conducting research in the Folger’s digital archives. She is a senior honors English major at Swarthmore College.

Henry Newton is a Folger Education Intern who is a junior at the Hotchkiss School. Henry has been reading Shakespeare since sixth grade and is a talented athlete.

Jack Ludwig is a rising freshman at Haverford College. Jack currently lives in Washington, DC, and has three pets: a bird, dog, and a cat. Jack also is a Helen Hayes Award nominee for Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol, a children’s adaptation of the Dickens classic, which he co-authored with his father, Ken Ludwig. 

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: Stefanie Jochman


At the end of the year, no matter how I try to avoid it, I always end up feeling like that frazzled owl in the popular “Teacher at the end of the year” Facebook meme, but this time, I’m not going to worry so much about smoothing my feathers. One lesson I learned while teaching Shakespeare this year: vulnerability is valuable.


“Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee, / I have no joy in this contract tonight” were the first two sentences of the ten-line monologue assigned to me at the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, and I can type them from memory now because my whole body knows those lines. At TSI, Caleen Jennings and Michael Tolaydo challenged our cohort to know Shakespeare not only as teachers but also as actors. Of TSI’s excellent tripartite program of scholarship, curriculum, and performance, performance sessions were where we (or at least I) felt most vulnerable. Sure, we were used to being our “teacher-selves” in front of large groups, but as teachers, we had to be the calm, collected adults in the room.


Students close read on their feet in Stefanie’s English class.  (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

Students close read on their feet in Stefanie’s English class. (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

In our performance workshops, we took new roles: wide-eyed teenage lovers, rowdy friends, fearsome fathers, nagging nurses. We couldn’t describe a character’s feelings the way we normally might when teaching a play; we had to act them—and know the lines by heart!


Anyone who walked into those first performance workshops could have recognized my discomfort and fear in the stiffness of my shoulders or the softness of my voice as my composed “teacher-self” fought against the wild sounds and fluid movements that a good acting warm-up requires. But with each workshop I grew louder and more fluid; I left a little more of “Ms. Jochman” behind and picked up another piece of “Juliet,” until, at last, performance day arrived. When a line was flubbed or a word forgotten, we buoyed each other. I felt vulnerable, but so did everyone else, and that shared vulnerability created a safe space to explore Shakespeare in heart and body.


I made a goal to create a similar atmosphere in my classroom this year. Rather than starting the year with the safe familiarity of syllabi review, I followed Deborah Gascon’s advice to play with Shakespeare on the first day of school. Students started with stiff shoulders and wary eyes, but by the end of that first hour together, we were all laughing.


Before I attended TSI, my students performed for assessment after finishing a play; this year, however, they performed to learn. Seniors performed variations of “Get thee to a nunnery” to understand its nuance; juniors used pantomime and tableaux to summarize early scene from The Merchant of Venice; freshmen reddened at the jokes in 1.1 of Romeo and Juliet while they put the scene on its feet. Each performance activity was an opportunity to tackle new words and embarrassing moments together, and as a result, our daily classroom performances built not only understanding of the text but also camaraderie.


Shakespeare is a name that makes a lot of students (and teachers!) feel vulnerable. His words might look jumbled to the eye or feel unfamiliar in our mouths, his plots and jokes make us blush, and his work is so esteemed we might not feel worthy of it, but those confusions, embarrassments, or inadequacies are the stuff of Shakespeare. What are soliloquies if not moments of vulnerability? Don’t we laugh most at the fools we see in ourselves? Being a teacher is a kind of performance, a role that can exhaust the player in its demands of invulnerability– round-the-clock professionalism (because you never know who is in the next aisle at the grocery store!) or a façade of constant accuracy. Our students can get lost in the roles they play, too; they wear their own masks to hide their fears. How freeing it is to put those roles aside in favor of Hamlet, Portia, Romeo, or Juliet.


One student’s reflections in anonymous end-of-the-year survey put it all in perspective:

“I really enjoyed when we did a play for The Merchant of Venice. That made me have some butterflies in my stomach, but it was so much fun!”

When I was a first-year teacher, I equated vulnerability with failure. I didn’t want my students to see when I had butterflies in my stomach, but my experiences with Shakespeare this year have taught me that vulnerability has value in the classroom. As I rehearsed my monologue last summer, I thought I was leaving “Ms. Jochman” behind on the Folger Theatre stage, but I was actually learning how to be a better teacher. When the expectation is to open ourselves to the challenge and make mistakes along the way rather than to simply get the answer right, there is so much more room for learning, for creativity, for camaraderie, for fun.


Stefanie Jochman teaches 9th grade and International Baccalaureate English classes at Notre Dame de la Baie Academy in Green Bay, WI. She received her BA in English and Secondary Education from St. Norbert College and her MA in English from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Stefanie is a proud alumna of the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute.

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