Posts Tagged ‘Peggy O’Brien’

By Peggy O’Brien


In our June issue of BardNotes, I posed four questions to y’all.  Three of them were requesting your advice about our blog and some new directions it might take.  I snuck in the fourth question, purely for my own selfish purpose.  I asked you what I should read this summer.

Summer Reading. (Image: James Brantley)

Summer Reading. (Image: James Brantley)


Thanks to the many, many of you who sent responses to some or all of the questions.  They were wildly helpful.  We’ll be back in a bit about the blog, but for now . . . the books you recommended!   A completely fabulous list.  And since many of you said, “Send us the list!”  we’re doing just that.  In all, 126 recommendations.  Data point that is amazing to me:  only two titles were recommended by more than one of you.  You are a fascinating and eclectic group of readers!  Two or three of you recommended All The Light We Cannot See and Americanah.


In this blog post, you’ll find the first half of the list.  In our next post, the rest of the list plus a bonus.  We got so excited about your recommendations that we decided to ask our squad of summer interns–two undergrads, a recent high school grad starting college next month, and a rising high school junior–for their reading recs too.


We’re having kind of a wild summer here.  Hope yours is restorative and big fun. (more…)

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 By Peggy O’Brien

At St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s 2015 commencement, Michael Tolaydo—both in honor of his long and distinguished career there and in honor of the graduating class—was asked to send

Michael Tolaydo (Image: Peggy O'Brien)

Michael Tolaydo (Image: Peggy O’Brien)

the graduates off into their futures with some Shakespeare.  We share it with you here because he is an important part of the Folger Education family.  His knowledge, creativity, guidance, and humor have enabled countless teachers across the country to up their teaching Shakespeare game—and will continue to do so. 

On a beautiful May morning, overlooking the St. Mary’s River, this is what he said:


CONGRATULATIONS GRADUATES!  Soon after you leave St. Mary’s College, you will– in the months and years to come–have many interviews and meetings with folks who are looking for employees.  I want to remind you that too often we try to impress the interviewer by presenting what we think they are looking for.  And in doing so, we interpret what we think are signals in their facial expressions and tone of voice.  When we react to those signals, we end up presenting  a mixed image and presence of who WE are.

Your strength is in you. Not the mask you think that you need to project.  The genuineness of who you really are is more powerful than any mask you might project as you are trying to please.

Great actors do not ‘make believe.”

Great actors make YOU believe.

The best advice I know that reminds me of this is from Shakespeare:  Hamlet’s advice to the players (3.2.1):


Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced
it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth
it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and
beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O,
it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious,
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very
rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the
most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable
dumb shows and noise. I would have such a fellow
whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It out-Herods
Herod. Pray you, avoid it.

Be not too tame neither, but let your own
discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the
word, the word to the action, with this special
observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of
nature. For anything so o’erdone is from the purpose
of playing, whose end, both at the first and
now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to
nature, to show virtue her own  feature, scorn her
own image, and the very age and body of the time
his form and pressure. Now this overdone or come
tardy off, though it makes the unskillful laugh,
cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure
of the  which one must in your allowance o’erweigh
a whole theater of others. O, there be players that I
have seen play and heard others praise  (and that
highly), not to speak it profanely, that, neither
having th’ accent of strangers nor the gait of
woman, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and
bellowed that I have thought some of nature’s
journeymen had made men, and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.
O, reform it altogether. And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for
them, for there be of them that will themselves
laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators
to laugh too, though in the meantime some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered.
That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it.

Go make you ready.


(slightly edited)


Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger or send her an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

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By Peggy O’Brien

I am writing today—on Martin Luther King’s real birthday—because his presence in the world and in my life had so much to do with why I became a teacher, and because the words that he left with us continue to challenge and inspire so many of us.  We need that inspiration . . . perhaps especially right about now.


Even though I liked school and loved some of my teachers, when I was growing up, I had never thought about a life in teaching.  Not even for a minute.  In 1968, as a college junior in Washington, DC, however, I began to be educated by the Civil Rights Movement:  noticing who rode DC buses where, realizing who worked for whom, standing on the roof of my dorm watching parts of this city burn during the riots that erupted after Dr. King’s death.

Out of all of that came my conviction that to help people connect to the power of their own brains was probably the most important kind of social activism on earth.  (I have never stopped believing this.)   After graduation, I started teaching in a DC public high school.  And so it went. (more…)

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Scott Van Wye, a student of Richard Phillipy at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, won first prize at the 31st annual English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition on May 5. Scott performed a speech by Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing and a cold reading from The Tempest in addition to a sonnet. The competition was held at Lincoln Center Theater in New York City for 58 winners of ESU Branch competitions nationwide. Scott’s prize for placing first is a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s Young Actors Summer School in London. (more…)

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Yeats is the guy who said that education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.  What I think about all the time is how that fire gets lit.  What’s the spark that turned you on to Shakespeare?  Who or what lit that fire or that fuse for you?

Why am I thinking about the fire and from whence it comes?  Since the beginning of March—a scant six weeks ago—here’s what’s been visible at this lively shoebox of a library: (more…)

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Last December, we led a Master Class on teaching Romeo and Juliet, streamed live from the public television studio we have tucked inside our building.  Six hundred of you joined us, asked questions and made comments on the air, and lit up the chat box during the hour.  A whole bunch of you were kind enough to participate in the survey that we sent you the following day.  In the course of your feedback, several of you suggested that the Folger hold office hours on a regular basis  . . . and on Twitter.

We loved the office hours idea!  For the last few months, we’ve done that–but for sure we don’t have the hang of it yet.  So we’re asking you to help us get this right. . . because that’s how we roll here.  We don’t ever plan anything without input and advice from teachers.

First, a reality check:  office hours for an hour or two on a monthly basis . . . overall a good idea?  If it is, then I’m gonna keep on asking:

  • What time of day, and which day, is best for you?
  • Is Twitter the best medium?  Our notion was to give quick answers and then follow up with  more detailed info in a blog entry that’s posted the following week.  Does that make sense to you?
  • What would make you want to show up at office hours?
  • Should office hours be on topics of your choosing, or should that be on us?  “January’s office hours: Teaching Macbeth
  • Should we schedule topics way in advance?
  • What other good ideas should we be having about this that we’re not?

Answer in the comments section and straighten us out.  Thanks.  Help.

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Until earlier this fall, I was clearly the one in love with words, literature, classrooms, teachers’ lounges, theatre.  Math and science not so much.  OK, so my grade in Biology as a college freshman was D.  Not so interested in photosynthesis. Still not the least bit interested in photosynthesis, but now I am crazily interested in archaeology and genetics.  I still am in love with words, literature, theatre, and classrooms.

But my world has gotten a lot wider and more wonderful.  And I have been brought to this place by the divinely cramped up and misshapen corpse of that devilish king, Richard III.

In August 2012, the University of Leicester (in central England) began one of the most ambitious archaeological projects ever attempted:  a search for the lost grave of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle.

Image Credit: University of Leicester

Image Credit: University of Leicester

Here at the Folger, we have just had the great honor and huge pleasure of hosting Dr. Turi King and Dr. Mathew Morris, the geneticist and archaeologist who respectively made the DNA match and led the dig.

Their story is thrilling—intense, historical, modern, gut hunches, scientific data. It’s also a story about smart people doing smart, smart work against the odds. Turi says that at the beginning, it was a little like a missing person’s story: King Richard is missing and we’re putting together all that is known now, so we can go off to find him. She also says that, at the outset, they felt their chances of finding him were past slim. (more…)

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