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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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When he wrote  “Home Thoughts from Abroad” in April 1845, Robert Browning yearned to be back home in England. But in the spring and summer of 2012, Shakespeare lovers might yearn to be in England  because Shakespeare is blooming everywhere.

As part of the Cultural Olympiad, the London 2012 Festival features more Shakespeare than has ever been assembled anywhere.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is hosting the World Shakespeare Festival which features a celebration of Shakespeare as the world’s playwright with over 50 arts organizations and thousands of UK and international artists,  thousands of teachers and young people, seventy productions and exhibitions, plus events and activities, right across the UK and online. The RSC estimates that one million tickets will be on sale, so if you get to England, you’re sure to see tons of Shakespeare.

The Folger will be represented at the RSC’s Worlds Together, an international conference exploring the value of Shakespeare and the arts in young people’s lives. The conference, held at London’s Tate Modern, runs from Thursday September 6 to Saturday September 8.

Meanwhile at Shakespeare’s Globe, one can see 37 plays in 37 languages in six weeks. Their Globe to Globe program began in April and runs until June 9. Some of the more unusual choices are Romeo and Juliet in Brazilian Portuguese,  The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew, and The Taming of the Shrew in Urdu. According to the Globe, if you’re prepared to stand, you can see every play of Shakespeare’s, each in a different language, for only £100.

Shakespeare: Staging the World is on at the British Museum from July 19  to  November 25. According to the museum, “the exhibition provides a unique insight into the emerging role of London as a world city, seen through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays. It also explores the pivotal role of the playhouse as a window to the world outside London, and the playwright’s importance in shaping a new sense of national identity.” Find out more about the exhibition and book your tickets here.

But what about those of us who can’t get to England?

Well, summertime is always outdoor Shakespeare time, so check out those productions in your local area.

Starting in June, BBC television will air new versions of four history plays — Richard II, both parts of Henry IV and Henry V. All four were directed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes and feature Jeremy Irons, Julie Walters, Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey) and John Hurt. Those of us in the US may eventually get them via PBS, though no date has yet been set.

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Coriolanus Poster

I was fortunate recently to see 10 scenes from Coriolanus, starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes. The presentation at the NY-based Shakespeare Society was part of an informative discussion by David Scott Kasten.

 The film doesn’t officially open until January, but here is the trailer.  In addition to Fiennes, the film stars Vanessa Redgrave as his mother, Volumnia and Jessica Chastain as his wife, Virgilia. Also in the cast are Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, and John Kani.

Also coming soon to a theater near you according to IMDB are a host of Shakespeare-related titles. Here they are:

  •  Much Ado About Nothingdirected by Joss Whedon  was “filmed in just 12 days entirely on location in exotic Santa Monica.”  on the film’s site, director Whedan says, “The text is to me a deconstruction of the idea of love, which is ironic, since the entire production is a love letter – to the text, to the cast, even to the house it’s shot in.” Shot in black & white, the film stars Amy Acker  and Alexis Denisof  as Beatrice and Benedick, features Castle star Nathan Fillion as Dogberry.
  • Messina High also based on Much Ado About Nothing.  It seems that Beatrice and Benedick’s  names have been changed to Bernice and Benny and the “teen comedy” is set in Marin County, California, but not many more details are available yet.
  • Hamlet A.D.D. is probably the strangest film to watch for. According to the film’s Website, “Hamlet is an easily distracted prince who is not quite ready to do the task at hand. Challenged to kill his uncle Claudius by the ghost of his recently dead dad, Hamlet enthusiastically proceeds to do everything but. From practicing stage acting in the 1800s to producing a television drama in the 1950s, from dancing at the discotheque in the 1970s to culinary prankery in the distant future, Hamlet always manages to find something to distract himself from taking revenge for his father’s murder. Shot entirely in front of a green screen, HAMLET A.D.D. features live-action characters in a colorful cartoon world.

Also in pre-production are a new version of Romeo and Juliet starring Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet and Douglas Booth as Romeo and a film simply called Rosaline also starring Steinfeld. According to IMDB, the latter film, based on a novel by Rebecca Searle,  tells the story of a young girl  who is dumped by a guy who immediately falls for another girl with whom he forms a suicide pact. Sound familiar?

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As the movie industry continues to reinvent itself, Shakespeare has been a mainstay amidst developing trends.  King John was one of the first silent films, and Taming of the Shrew one of the first to receive a soundtrack. Shakespeare’s characters have even found themselves reinvented as high school students in teen movies! Similarly, as technology has taken root as a vital tool in education teachers have used Shakespeare on film to enhance their lesson plans. The disadvantage to this is that film is a passive learning tool, and if only one film is presented then students tend to think that there is only one way to interpret a single play. However, the range of interpretations of one play in the hands of different directors and actors lends itself to discussions about the text for students who regularly entertain themselves at the movies.

Showing the same scene as interpreted by different directors displays how adaptable Shakespeare’s text is. For example, screening the scene in which Petruchio and Katherine meet in the 1929 “talkie,” again in the 1967 Zeffirelli-directed film, and again in the 1999 teen-adaptation 10 Things I Hate About You, students can develop a conversation about the ranges of interpretation open to Katherine’s resistance to Petruchio’s advances. To jumpstart discussion, try keeping the text in front of students while they watch to have them circle the words the actors choose to emphasize, and note the actors’ physicality and body language.

Filmmakers re-visit Shakespeare again and again because there is always another direction to take his work.  Plays can be done with lutes (Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet) or with rock songs (Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet).  They can take place in a castle (Oliver Parker’s Othello) or in a classroom (Tim Blake Nelson’s O).  They can be done without cuts (Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet) or with wild interpretation (Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet).  Discovering broad choices on film makes for a richer classroom discussion.

For more ideas on using film in the classroom, check out Mike LoMonico’s article for PBS.

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