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Posts Tagged ‘words’

by Chris Lavold

A speech or communications class can be the perfect setting for a small dose of Shakespeare to get the students comfortable with being in front of their peers and completing a close reading of a text.  When my class begins persuasive speaking, I try to make time to spend a day or two with Shakespeare’s language.  There is a great lesson plan on the ReadWriteThink  that challenges the students to analyze famous speeches using the rhetorical triangle. As I read the objectives for this lesson, my mind began racing towards Act 3, scene 2 of Julius Caesar.  Here they are straight from the lesson plan: (more…)

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Folger Library Exterior: Bas relief: Julius Caesar

by Gina Voskov

One of the courses I teach at my school is 6th grade Humanities, and next up in our year’s curriculum plan is learning about Ancient Greece and Rome. I’m excited about getting the kids up and out of their seats for this class, and the best way I can do that is by getting them to interact with Shakespeare.

For this unit, I’ll be giving them some Julius Caesar, the Cinna the Poet scene in particular. This scene never fails to get all kids speaking, thinking, and moving. It’s also just about the easiest scene in the books with respect to language–there’s none of that stuff that turns so many kids away–the thee‘s and thine‘s and whatnot. I love giving this scene to groups of kids at the start of the year because it’s a great way to build community. But now that we are 3/4ths of the way through the year, I’m going to open our unit with performance. This scene will definitely have them asking questions about history, which is what we teachers hope for, right? (more…)

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In case you’ve forgotten: Tomorrow is Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday.

In my recent post I wrote about the Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene-Flash Mob event that the Folger is hosting on YouTube. We’ve gotten lots of questions and comments about this activity, and we’re hoping that you take the time to get your students to create this scene. (more…)

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I was speaking with Folger Theatre’s resident Dramaturg, Michele Osherow, this morning as she prepared for an on-camera interview. While catching up, I mentioned that my husband would be working on a performance of Measure for Measure during his first year of graduate school – one of my least favorite plays. Michele replied that Measure for Measure is one of her favorites because it is so messy and unsettling, the same reasons I don’t like it.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Michele went on to point out that while her college students express distaste for Measure for Measure or Troilus and Cressida during her class, those complicated and uncomfortable plays are the ones they return to explore in their final papers and presentations. They’re the plays that stick in their minds because there’s so much to explore even as it discomfits us.

My favorite plays tend to contain comic banter. I like how the words intersect and dance around each other, especially out loud, in plays like Much AdoTwelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet (before it becomes a tragedy). I also enjoy the bumbling comic characters in Midsummer, as you already know, because I feel so close to Shakespeare as a player in those scenes. I enjoy talking about the use of language and the playing with the several meanings of words in performance.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

For Michele, those complicated plays are very close in nature to modern theatrical experiences. They make us question how we feel and what we think about the world we live in – just as Shakespeare’s audience must have felt and thought. Is marriage a reward or a punishment? Is your best friend a good or bad person – are you? Who do you relate to: the villain or the hero – or is there a character you can identify as either role?

This reminded me of several videos in our Teacher to Teacher series – especially ‘Beauty in Difficulty‘ from Kristyn Rosen on plays that will challenge her students. Additionally, there is a whole section of videos related to teachers responding to the question “What is your favorite Shakespeare play to teach?” They cite relatability, good discussions, fun, and playable moments as their best reasons for one play or another.

What is your favorite play to read, see, teach, or talk about?

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It all started with a Blog entry I posted here last week called Shakespeare in Other Words.  Suddenly,  Howard Sherman @HESherman and Peter Marks @petermarksdrama took that post to a new direction and began a heated  session on Twitter about the use of modern translations in Shakespeare productions. Before I knew it, Sherman organized a Tweet Convocation:“Soul of Shakespeare: Plot vs Language” #pmdhes for today at 2:30 with w/guest tweep Michael Kahn from DC’s Shakespeare Theater.

The confab lasted well over an hour and lots of folks joined in. Here are just a random few of the Tweets:

“Soul of Shakespeare” twitter convo arises from unplanned debate over whether it’s still Shakespeare when language is altered.

Above all, let’s have fun. After all, how many opportunities r there for live national multi-participant discussions of Shakespeare?

Doing our finger stretches, getting ready for today’s  Twitter conversation at 2:30.

@mikelomo was writing abt Shax in classrooms, not on stage, but it’s led to fascinating convo.

I am not bothered by some language changes. Murder, instead of murther, for example.

You don’t call Shakes ‘Ovid & Holinshead altered’ so why would you call very-much altered Shakes ‘Shakes’

But, if you change Mamet’s words is it still Mamet? No one argues he’s a poet not a playwright.

The depth of character in Shakes comes from what they SAY about what they feel & do

Aren’t we talking ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ of Shakespeare? Yes, language was distinct, but so was his vision, scope, style collusion etc

Have all the conceptual productions and severe cutting of text made it too ok to change language?

Greatest approach to teaching #Shakespeare at any age and especially in high school – GET THEM ON THEIR FEET AS THEY READ!!

But I don’t think ppl go to Shakespeare to see the same production that they had seen at another time. At least I hope not.

In schools, are students given free rein to imagine different settings, concepts? Would that help them “relate” better?

That’s what we do in schools. They produce their own scenes in any style they want, using the words.

“Where would you put this scene?” “What situation does this sound like to you?” imagination/relatability is key

Yes, good teachers allow that sort of higher-level thinking.

When productions modernize a play, etc., but keep the language – does the audience relate more?

My parents has Lambs’ TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE,. Suggested I always read before going to see when I was young.

When I was 5, my Russian immigrant mother read me the real Shakes. I fell in love w/it like you did with the Lambs.

I resisted the Lambs’ summaries completely. Stodgy, dull and I wanted to discover the stories for myself.

In my Shakespeare class in college I felt like we were discouraged from taking risks. Stick with the safe, they said.

I had BBC Shakespeare: Animated Tales after finding R&J at 8yo. Devotee ever since. All orig. lang.

In high school…only a handful of the plays are in most curriculums? Does that limit appeal?

I just don’t think Shakespeare is FOR everyone. And I think there are (a few) langauge barriers that cannot be overcome.

Any and all textual changes are GAME ON. As long as there’s transparency.

Make a good production & Shakespeare automatically is accessible. Concept should illuminate, not be used to “dumb down.”

many prods say they put lang center. alas, few really do

I knew director who watched all rehearsals from balcony w/ eyes closed to “listen to language. but it’s not a radio play

I love some plays, dislike others, avoid yet others entirely. But I don’t need to rewrite them.

I think it’s outrageous when Shakespeare is watered down. It’s outrageous when any author is paraphrased.

Why not go back to all male actors if we want to be extra faithful? (said w/ a wink)

Soliloquies are subtext made verbal.

I really have no problem with non-English additions. It’s the watered-down English I deplore.

Yay for us geeks!

Good god, was that an hour? Thanks @HESherman @petermarksdrama @ShakespeareinDC for the lovely confab!

You can go to Twitter and search #pmdhes to see the rest. But the discussion raised lots of questions. Feel free to answer some of them in the comments section below.

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Why are there so many “modern” versions of Shakespeare’s plays?

There are plenty of great books that don’t need translated versions. We don’t look for easier versions of Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, or Fitzgerald (or at least, I hope we don’t.) But re-doing Shakespeare seems to be a favorite sport of publishers.

In a way, we can trace it back to Nahum Tate in the 1680’s and Thomas Bowdler in 1818, but they had totally different agendas than today’s creators. Tate wanted happy endings and Bowdler wanted to clean up the naughty bits.[I’ll talk about them in my next post.]

We at the Folger have a standard answer when someone asks us what we think of “modern” versions of Shakespeare’s texts:

“IF YOU’RE NOT GOING TO USE SHAKESPEARE’S WORDS, DON’T DO SHAKESPEARE.”

Why dumb down all those beautiful words and images for the sake of making it easier? We’ve found that if you’re teaching Shakespeare in an active, performance-based approach, the language becomes less of on obstacle.

It’s the words that matter. Here’s an example of a passage from R&J which I’ve written with an interlinear version with the No Fear version:


Shakespeare: Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!

No Fear: Oh, she shows the torches how to burn bright!

Shakespeare: It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night

No Fear: She stands out against the darkness

Shakespeare: Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear,

No Fear: like a jeweled earring hanging against the cheek of an African.

Shakespeare: Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.

No Fear: Her beauty is too good for this world; she’s too beautiful to die and be buried.

Shakespeare:  So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.

No Fear: She outshines the other women like a white dove in the middle of a flock of crows.

Shakespeare: The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,

No Fear: When this dance is over, I’ll see where she stands

Shakespeare: And, touching hers, make blessèd my rude hand.

No Fear: and then I’ll touch her hand with my rough and ugly one.

Shakespeare: Did my heart love till now?

No Fear: Did my heart ever love anyone before this moment?

Shakespeare: Forswear it, sight!

No Fear: My eyes were liars, then

Shakespeare: For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

No Fear: because I never saw true beauty before tonight.

See the difference? Post your comments below as to the effect of the translation.

I almost hesitate to mention more of these, but they are worth discussing here. The following are for the print empaired student:

But back to print. Here are the candidates:

  • Kent Richmond has created what he calls “verse translations” of several plays and shows why his versions are superior to what he calls the “dumbed down prose versions.”  Here’s his translation of the Prologue from R&J.
  • No Fear Shakespeare is part of Spark Notes. Here’s their parallel-text version of the same Prologue.
  • Barrons have moved on from their Shakespeare Made Easy series with the death of  their author, Alan Durband. They now have a series called Simply Shakespeare which seems equally bad.
  • There’s also a series of Shakespeare Novels by Paul Illidge.  Here’s the opening line from Macbeth: “A summer storm moves on over the barren and deserted countryside of Scotland during the Middle Ages, leaving the rain-soaked fields cloaked in clouds of fog.” Oh my.

I won’t get into the manga and graphic versions of the plays, most of which retain the original language and are quite good.

One of my students recently said to me, “You have some strong opinions.” Yes, I do, but if you feel that there’s room for these translations in your class, I encourage you to post your comments below.

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This summer my nieces and nephews have been to dance, cheerleading , basketball, science, and EVEN computer animation camps!  They play acting too, singing/dancing playing pretend, etc (my nephew played the son in The Winter’s Tale at school through Shakespeare Steps Out!).

BUT AS A FAMILY spending a Saturday morning during the summer at the library was not something she thought would go over well until I told her about our family series, Shake Up Your Saturdays!

The girls anticipate learning an Elizabethan dance, the boys look forward to their First Folio scavenger hunt, and my sister is enthusiastic AND encouraged. It’s free! 🙂

Join us this Saturday, August 6, for a Folger family program on Shakespeare and the First Folio. It’s from 10am – 11am and geared towards kids ages 6 – 12. To reserve your spot, call 202.675.0395 or e-mail educate@folger.edu.

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