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Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare in American Life’

3-KL6_windIn our most recent blog post, we featured a unit plan from our Shakespeare in American Life website about patriarchy in King Lear (onstage right now at Folger Theatre) and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Today, we return to Shakespeare in American Life for a look at some fascinating comments about King Lear by Janet Reno, who served as the U.S. Attorney General from 1993 to 2001.

Reno recalls how she organized a group reading of King Lear at the Department of Justice, and she offers insight about Shakespeare’s understanding of the human condition.

We’ll give you a small taste with these powerful words:

I don’t know of anybody that has so combined the power to express his thoughts as magnificently as Shakespeare, about human nature and all the challenges and the pitfalls that we face. I think he is for us all, I think he is for us all throughout the ages. I think every person can find something within the lines that Shakespeare wrote that applies to him.

These audio clips can serve as a jumping off point for a class discussion about how Shakespeare’s words affect us today, even at the higher levels of government.

Listen: Reading Lear at the Justice Department

Listen: Shakespeare and the Human Condition

 

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Joseph Marcell as King Lear. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Joseph Marcell as King Lear. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Performances of Shakespeare’s Globe: King Lear began last Friday at Folger Theatre, so we thought this would be an opportune time to share a unit plan based on Shakespeare’s famous play about a father and his three daughters.

The unit plan, featured on our Shakespeare in American Life website, comes from English teacher Keith Muller.

Over the course of several weeks, students will examine the relationship between tragedy and patriarchs in King Lear and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

What else is involved:

  • A discussion of the genre of tragedy and the qualities of a tragic hero
  • Comparing and contrasting the protagonists, Lear and Anse
  • Adapting As I Lay Dying as a play
  • and more…

Visit Shakespeare in American Life to see the complete unit plan.

Find more Lear-related teaching resources on our website.

 

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With the Fourth of July holiday weekend behind us, many teachers are turning again to the task of curriculum-building for the upcoming school year and thinking about ways to get this fresh batch of students interested in studying Shakespeare.

Consider how it came to be that Americans over the centuries have so heartily embraced Shakespeare, an Englishman, as one of their own. Take this Henry David Thoreau quote, for instance:

“True, we have declared our independence, and gained our liberty, but we have dissolved only the political bonds which connected us with Great Britain; though we have rejected her tea she still supplies us with food for the mind. Milton and Shakespeare, Cowper and Johnson, with their kindred spirits, have done and are still doing as much for the advancement of literature, and the establishment of a pure and nervous language, on this as on the other side of the water.”

If you’re looking for some good history tie-ins, we have a fantastic online resource for you: Shakespeare in American Life.

This website and its accompanying radio documentary explore Shakespeare’s impact on the American identity, particularly in politics and the experiences of immigrants and minority groups; Shakespeare’s influence in the American classroom and the public arena; and Shakespeare’s abiding presence on stage and on screen.

In addition to all of this rich material, the Folger has provided lesson plans related to Shakespeare and American life, such as this one drawing connections between The Tempest and immigration patterns in American history.

Also, give a listen to the radio documentary, which is broken into three parts of an hour each; consider playing an excerpt for your students, having them take notes, and leading a discussion afterward.

 

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Orson Welles had a love affair with Macbeth.  Many teachers know him from the 1948 feature film which he both directed and played the title role. Sure it’s in black & white, and yes he rearranges scenes, seems to make up bits of dialogue , and even leaves the witches out of act 4, scene 1 (we only hear their voices), but the film has enough originality to make it still work today.

Here’s the opening minutes:

But perhaps lesser known was the 1936 stage version, commonly called Voodoo Macbeth.  The play was part of the W.P.A. and opened in Harlem before moving to Broadway and later going on a national tour. Here’s one of the few videos from that groundbreaking production that survive:

If you want to read more about this production, I’d suggest two books. The first is simply called Orson Welles on Shakespeare edited by Richard France. In addition to an excellent foreword by Simon Callow, it includes the entire script that Welles used.

Weyward Macbeth:Intersections of Race and Performance is a more recent book that touches on that production in some depth. 

The collection of excellent essays was edited by Scott Newstok and Ayanna Thompson who devote an entire section of the book to this fascinating episode in the American theater.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



So I wonder: does anyone still use the 1948 Macbeth film when teaching the play? And does anyone discuss the Voodoo Macbeth with students? I’d love to hear from you if you do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Teachers often ask me how to justify teaching a Shakespeare play in an American Literature class.

My answer is simple: Teach The Tempest. Many scholars believe that The Tempest was inspired by the real-life shipwreck of the Sea Venture off the coast of Bermuda in 1609 on its way to Jamestown. The account of that incident written in a letter by William Strachey  reached England in 1610. Scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote The Tempest soon afterwards. In addition, the plays deals with different views of Colonialism–a good stopic for classroom discussions.

You can hear Sam Waterston and scholars talk about the storm and the survivors in this Podcast from our series, Shakespeare in American Life.

There are plenty of teaching resources for The Tempest on our Play-byPlay section of the Folger Education site.

If any of you teach The Tempest, please add your comments below.

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