Archive for the ‘Taming of the Shrew’ Category

By Quintin Burks


Well, it’s that time of the year again; the leaves are starting to change, the nights are getting cooler, and the school year has begun. As I start to see new and familiar young faces fill the hall of my school, some filled with excitement and some apprehension, I’m reminded of just how important the beginning of the school year is. Every year, it becomes more and more apparent to me just how important the first few weeks of instruction are in setting the tone for my entire class. It is for this reason that Shakespeare has become my go-to for starting the year off right.


Though it may seem crazy to start students off with literature that they most likely identify as especially difficult or only for the intellectual elite, the immediate dispelling of these popular myths by interacting with Shakespeare’s works is a profoundly beneficial practice. Students actively engage with Shakespeare’s words and, in so doing, are empowered by a form of success that seems, and is, particularly momentous. Moreover, teaching Shakespeare according to the Folger Approach produces a high level of investment in your class because it is ridiculously fun, in addition to being incredibly effective.


One approach to beginning the year with Shakespeare is to teach a variety of excerpts instead of an entire play. I find that this approach is particularly beneficial, because it allows students to develop the literacy skills that we are trying to teach, without some unintentional road blocks that come with reading an entire play. Instead of trying to remember plot and character details (which are sometimes highly confusing, even in short plays like Midsummer) students will be focused on working with short excerpts from a variety of plays that serve, for all intents and purposes, as a whole play.


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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 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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Photo: PBS


The second season of Shakespeare Uncovered begins on January 30th.  The Folger has been asked to work with WNET THIRTEEN to create support material for teachers and their students. I’ve been lucky to have seen the series already and want to share some of the highlights with you.

Some of the Learning Media Resources have already been posted. Each resource takes clips from the episode and includes Teaching Tips, Discussion Questions, Handouts, and the appropriate Standards.  Take a look at these:

Just as PBS did with Season 1, all episodes will be streamed for free and available on DVD. I encourage you to watch them. Here is the schedule for Season 2:

  • January 30
    • A Midsummer Night’s Dream hosted by Hugh Bonneville
    • King Lear hosted by Christopher Plummer
  • February 6
    • The Taming of the Shrew with Morgan Freeman
    • Othello with David Harewood
  • February 13
    • Antony & Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall
    • Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes

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~by Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger

students perform Taming of the Shrew at the 2012 Secondary Festival

A few weeks ago, I was able to sit in on a read through of Taming of the Shrew. I know the play; I knew the lines. But listening to those actors in that room on that day, the language really came alive for me. The actors brought parts of themselves to the lines, and then interacted with the other actors to bring the speeches to life. The words became living, changing things as I heard them.

This reminded me of an experience in a 10th grade English program. I came in to help the students understand a play they were studying. I worked with three different classes in one day. All the students were 10th graders attending the same school. In theory, the experiences with the same lines from the same play should have been—similar.

But different children brought different “selves” to the lines, interacted in their own way with others in the room. All three classes interpreted and presented the lines in entirely different ways. It was exciting to see the lines come to life through the students’ work. Those student actors in that room on that day created the play and the world of the play themselves. It was truly exciting to see it happen three different times.

Teaching students to experience, live, breathe, and perform Shakespeare allows them to bring the words to life. How do you encourage students to have a real experience with Shakespeare?

Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger is the Docent Liason for Folger Education, a frequent contributor for Making a Scene, and a published writer for Calliope magazine. 

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~by Kate Eastwood Norris
currently in the role of Katherina Minola for Folger Theatre 

Kate Eastwood Norris and husband Cody Nickel as Katherina and Petruchio

As I write this, we are about two weeks from our first audience for the Folger’s production of The Taming of the Shrew and I still have no real idea how to say Kate’s final speech without offending somebody! After almost twenty years as a professional actress, I have learned that individual audience members will interpret what they see the way they want to. If they watch that final speech with their arms crossed and a scowl ready on their faces before I even begin to speak, that is something I have no control over. The most I can do is try and remain consistent in the portrayal of my own ideas about the character and by following clues within the text, I have a powerful weapon in my arsenal.

What is commonly known as “the sun and moon scene” (Act 4 sc 5) is perhaps the clearest textual clue toward Kate’s behavior in the last scene of the play. Petruchio has spent most of his time with Kate employing the tactic he references in Act 2 sc1 lines 178-179

 ”Say that she rail, why then I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale”

It is finally in the sun and moon scene that Kate finally learns the lesson that choice of words can be a game and the naming of a thing is arbitrary to the truth of what it is. In this scene, Petruchio names the sun the moon, and in order to continue their journey, Kate not only agrees with him but goes so far as to treat Vincentio, an old man they meet, as a “young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet” (41)

To take this lesson learned and apply it to the troublesome lines in the last speech such as

“Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;” (171-2)

can serve to take the sting a modern woman might feel in such submission by applying the logic that Kate does not mean what she is says and is basically calling the sun the moon throughout the entire last speech.

While this is one way to go about it, and there are a few lines Kate speaks that I like to think she doesn’t necessarily believe, our production is focusing on the love Kate has developed for Petruchio and his in return. Since my actual husband, Cody Nickell is playing Petruchio, it is not in the least difficult to find the motivation to say to all present, the audience included:

“Place you hands below your husbands foot;
In token of which duty, if he please
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.”

I would help Cody and give him a lift up in the world any way I could and never could conceive of that sort of love until I found him. Now, as an actress, I would of course need to play this with whichever actor was across from me, but having Cody there sure makes it easier.

So the true love Kate found with Petruchio combined with a textually supported healthy sense of wordplay have ended up as my particular weapons against stubborn audience members who are determined to be offended. Whatever they think, all will certainly see a happier Kate at the end of the play, and to me, that’s a story worth telling.

What questions do modern students have for Katherina Minola? Post them in the comments and Folger’s Kate and her compatriots on the ED blog will respond!

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~by Danielle Drakes
Education Outreach Coordinator 

Earlier this week I attended the first rehearsal for The Taming of the Shrew, Folger Theatre’s next production.  Having recently seen several interpretations of this well known play at our very successful Secondary School Festival last month, I was reminded that when we engage in a Shakespeare play it can always be different. For one, the infamous Induction scene which opens the play, is often played obligingly and with no real connection to the larger story. Or, other times it is cut entirely from the production. After all, its seems to exist as a way of framing the commedia used throughout the play contextualizing the use of yet, another way of storytelling.

To know this play, Taming, is to know that Shakespeare was saying something very specific about culture, gender roles, marriage, money, and power. Shakespeare intends to amuse by creating laughter. His edgy and profane poetry, in addition to using the commedia style, elevates our experience of the world that is created in (and around) Padua.

Yes, I have read the play. Seen the play. Talked about the play. However, before this week I had not actually heard the play. I listened to the this cast speak these words for the first time together seated around a table(not on stage, no costumes, and no set). Using only the words they were able to illuminate Shakespeare’s sense of play, conflict and a resolution that we can accept. OK, most of us. Particularly, if we can move through any strong feelings we own on one side of the coin, or the other,  we will pick up what Shakespeare was putting down. And when we do, we can enjoy language full of energy and vigor which is highly appropriate for a play that explores themes of aggression and physicality. As it happens—all jokes aside—Taming exists in a world where Kate and Petruchio actually work. After all, it’s a comedy.

Have you recently read or played with this text for a production of The Taming of the Shrew? What was your experience? What works for you and your students when reading around the table? How have you and your students understood the play by way of the language. Did you face any challenges?  with The Taming of the Shrew?

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In my extra-curricular reading travels, I’ve recently come across a lovely book from the 19th century entitled The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines by Mary Cowden Clarke. One must wonder where the characters for these very strong (-minded, -willed, -convictioned) women came from, and she provides a clean, clever, and interesting viewpoint for the women Shakespeare wrote. From Helena to Ophelia, several characters are explored in rich detail because she noted that girls were not relating to Shakespeare very well, and wanted to show them that women were very much represented with many faces in Shakespeare’s canon.

Mrs. Cowden Clarke was actually quite a remarkable woman: at 18, the year after she married, she set to work on a 12-year project, the Concordance to Shakespeare’s works, a Verbal Index to all the Passages in the Dramatic Works of the Poet, which she published under her own name. After then writing the 15-essay collection, Girlhood, she set to work with her husband to edit all of Shakespeare’s works (she was the first woman to do so). She did not appreciate the “Bowlderization” of Shakespeare’s work by a different female editor, Henrietta Bowlder, who “cleaned up” Shakespeare’s text. THEN, Mrs. Cowden Clarke  continued to work with her husband on The Shakespeare Key, unlocking the Treasures of his Style, elucidating the Peculiarities of his Construction, and displaying the Beauties of his Expression; forming a Companion to The Complete  Concordance to Shakespeare.

My main interest in this collection lay in Katherina Minola – she was the reason I had sought out the book in the first place because of a quote in Shakespeare Inside, by Amy Scott-Douglass. In it, Scott-Douglass notes that after Katherina’s temper lands her in a convent as a prisoner (she’s locked in a dark, quiet room to keep her tamer), Katherina becomes enthralled with a painting of Saint Catherine, and spends many hours sitting and looking at the painting in order to memorize the face of the saint. The nuns admonish her for being irreverent and enjoying the painting,  and not praying on her knees to it instead.

Two parallels come to mind for me, and take them as you will: 1) as Scott-Douglass notes, that Art in a Prison is a welcome escape from the walls of the place, into a spiritual haven of sorts. 2) that worship of a work of art and studied enjoyment of the same work are not one and the same experience. The former misses the beauty and versatility of the work, and the latter grows from the experience of studying it.

Katherina is an interesting character for many reasons, and over the coming weeks as our Theatre rehearses their production of The Taming of the Shrew, I’m sure we’ll have lots more to talk about for her. Suffice to say, a character as unruly as Katherina has a long history of being portrayed in a myriad of ways, with a plethora of sympathies, and continues to be a controversial character today. I’ll refer you, here, to her profile from the Folger’s 1997 exhibit “Shakespeare’s Unruly Women.”

All of the links to Mrs. Cowden Clarke’s works are to Google Play, where Free E-versions are available to download to your mobile devices or computers. What are your thoughts on Katherina’s experience with the painting of Saint Catherine? How does her experience in the convent relate to your students’ experience with Shakespeare’s plays? What captures them about the work?

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