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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Bruno’

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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King Lear

King Lear, 1874. Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Dan Bruno

King Lear, in its embodiment of the horrors of human existence, is the black hole at the center of the Shakespearean tragic universe, drawing in any sense of light and hope and keeping it from escaping.

The big questions at the center of this play challenge us as human beings to confront a difficult truth: namely, that love is the source of Lear’s evil.

None of the deeper thinking that this post hopefully represents would have been possible without the resources the Folger Shakespeare Library offers. I arrived at the library on a Thursday morning and did some research in the library.

That night, I attended the engaging performance of King Lear put on by the Globe Theatre. The next day, I was part of a teaching workshop on the play. As you read the rest of this, consider that in a two-day period, I watched the play, researched the play, and learned about the play in a single place.

I first started my Lear thinking while I was under the streets of DC, in the stacks at the Folger, looking up and down the lengthy corridor for resources on a different project, when I came across the section on King Lear and began leafing through the books on the shelf. (more…)

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2013 Secondary Festival

As the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute approaches the end of its third week, we return to Dan Bruno’s NCTE High School Matters blog, where he has been busy sharing some of the insights he’s gleaned from TSI sessions.

Here’s an excerpt from a blog post in which Dan reviews some maxims for guiding students through performance-based learning in the classroom.

This scene is your whole play: this further reinforces the Folger philosophy that close reading on one’s feet does not require the teaching of a whole play; focus on what the scene shows us about the people in it, etc.

All plays are contemporary: despite the original context of the play, students bring their own cultural contexts and personal contexts to the plays they are reading; validating those contexts validates the student and builds confidence

Characters are defined by what they do, not what they say: helping students focus on action eases some of the anxiety with the foreign quality of the language

Words can convey many meanings: What do you mean when you say it?: this one reminds students that they have choice and ownership over their readings of the text while validating that there is no one way to play it

What does the script tell us, NOT what would we like it to tell us?: this one reminds students that everything they need to know is on this page; there is no secret code to reading Shakespeare

Dialogue is action-oriented: all utterances have a goal behind them, even if that goal is to be left alone; understanding these helps link performance movement choice to how the line is read

Good plays are about human behavior: this one links to the previous one; how do people behave when they are in specific contexts attempting to gain specific desires

You cannot play themes or literary tropes: these things are great for the world of literary analysis, but alien to the world of the actor; people don’t consider themes when they are trying to bed lovers or destroy rivals; themes arise from our reflection on those events

Do you have anything to add? What are maxims that you communicate to your students when they are doing performance-based, language-centered learning? Tell us in the comments.

Read the full blog post at NCTE High School Matters.

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As we draw near to the end of the first week of TSI, we wanted to give you a glimpse into how things are going so far.

The days are just packed! Our TSI teachers have acted on the Folger stage, looked through rare materials in our Reading Room, interacted with scholars in focused seminars, worked through curriculum ideas, and much more.

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