Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Connecting the Bard

I sent a tweet out to Web English Teacher asking her how she gets students interested in Shakespeare in today's modern world were we seem so disconnected from time of quills, ink, handwritten plays and no twitter. Her response was short, but that is to be expected when working with only 140 characters. Connect Shakespeare to modern life was her answer, and after brainstorming on her five word answer I have realized the potential for teaching Shakespeare, and how giving a stronger effort to connect Shakespeare with the student's modern life is how they will become interested. I feel like I am walking in that direction with my research: modern teaching methods of Shakespeare.

I also sent out a wide range of emails to current teachers asking them which plays they teach most often. All of them mentioned Romeo & Juliet since it is mandated in some states and practical in others. However, The Taming of the Shrew is the second most taught play according to the teachers I surveyed. I have started reading the play in its entirety, and plan to see the adaptations of the play as well.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


This afternoon I watched the movie Anonymous, and it is now my favorite movie tied with Midnight in Paris. The movie weaves a plot about the existence of William Shakespeare. There are many conspiracies about Shakespeare being a mere pen name for another author or multiple authors. Anonymous takes the stance that he is a pen name, but many twists require the real identity to be hidden. It was a great movie in my opinion. I don't know if I believe the plot, but seeing the plays being acted as they were in Shakespeare's time was incredible (I actually skipped back and watched that scene twice). Also, seeing the political effect the plays had was great. I know the movie is fictional, but the purpose of the plays as a political statement was beautifully acted in the movie. It's at Redbox. Go get it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo?

"O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though, Romeo?" I know where he is; he is in a state mandated curriculum in Wyoming! I issued a question to several teachers asking them what Shakespeare works they teach. I was more surprised by the unanimity of their answers than anything. In previous questions, the answers varied far and wide, so I assumed since they all disagreed on when to teach Shakespeare, they would also disagree on what Shakespeare to teach. I was wrong. I've wondered why Romeo and Juliet is so commonly taught in schools when there are better plays to be read. A teacher in Wyoming's public education system, Holly Peralta, explained why. The Common Core insists that in order to prepare students for state standardized tests and the ACT, Romeo and Juliet needs to be taught at the 9th grade level.

Along with Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer's Nights Dream and Taming of the Shrew, tied for second place as to what plays are taught to first time readers of Shakespeare. I found this interesting. A romantic tragedy and two comedies? A bit on the opposite ends of the scale, right? I'm interested to research more into the selection of first time Shakespeare reads.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jim Burden = Ophelia

In my Women's Literature class we were discussing the significance of Antonia to Jim Burden in the novel My Antonia by Willa Cather. I realized that Hamlet and Antonia are the same character, just as Ophelia and Jim Burden are the same. Ophelia does not exist without Hamlet, and without Antonia, Jim Burden wouldn't exist! This is known as the Ophelia Syndrome, or the lack of individualism. Jim does what Ophelia did, he does what Antonia expects or tells him to do--even when she doesn't intend to tell him anything. He is dependent on what she says. If she were tell him to go to a nunnery, he probably would...

Audio vs Text

I realize my post about the audio version of Hamlet is late, but I was waiting on a response from Mrs Gardner, currently teaching advanced placement and 11th grade English. After listening to a BBC Radio production of Hamlet and the commentary version, I wondered how these could be used effectively in a classroom. I asked Mrs. Gardner how or if she uses audio in her classroom. Surprisingly, she said she tries to use audio clips as much and briefly as possible. Clear as mud, right? She explained that giving the characters a voice is great for interesting students, but simply sitting and listening and possibly reading along will not work in a classroom. The students aren't doing anything. They aren't engaged in the text. However, she gave several ideas for using audio.

  • Play the audio while the students do the acting on the spot. They'll have to carefully listen to know what to do, and because it is so impromptu it is fun. Have students rotate out for different roles to ensure participation.
  • For scenes such as the ghost scene in Hamlet or the Lady Macbeth dream scene in Macbeth, turn down the lights and listen to those excerpts to create a mood.
  • For dramatic soliloquys ("To Be or Not To Be," St Crispin's Speech, Romeo's final lines, or Iago's dark planning), play the clips, and if it is required to have student's memorize them, play them, stop them and have the students pick up where the character left off.
I understand why audio wouldn't be effective for the whole class period, but implementing them often and in appropriate amounts is brilliant.

Any other ideas on how to use audio in a classroom?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's All About the Grammar

Today I took a moment to read my Google Alerts on both Shakespeare and Grammar. I looked through the Shakespeare ones, and I was as surprised as always to see so much Shakespeare activity in just one day--all the updates on productions, the Supreme Court quoting a line from King Henry IV, and a review on Shakespeare in Love. I opened my second email from Google Alerts about the fascinating facets of participles and participle phrases--I really do find them fascinating by the way--and, wait a second...I just read that article in my Shakespeare Google Alerts! I loved that my alerts for Teaching Grammar and Shakespeare have something in common! The article discusses Shakespeare's genius use of grammar in his writing, and how he doesn't just use commas to follow the rules, but each pause, semicolon and adjective are important to the analysis of Shakespeare.

Now to connect this even further! While listening to Hamlet's famous "To Be, or Not To Be" soliloquy, I realized I have been reading those lines wrong for so many years. It is not read "To die to sleep to sleep perchance to dream ay there's the rub." No, no, no! "To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;" Each comma, semicolon and colon are important. They give the words meaning and substance.

I love grammar, but it wasn't until Google alerted me that it is the grammar in Hamlet's speech that made me love the sound of his voice ringing through my room this morning as I put on my mascara.

Play Review: The Merchant of Venice

I just got back from the play tonight, and I loved it! Overall, I think the play was great, but three aspects stuck out the most to me.

  • The Narrator-- I liked the narrator addition to the play the most. Shakespeare's original piece does not have a narrator. Henry V had the chorus which acted like a narrator, but The Merchant of Venice had not outsider parts such as a narrator or chorus. The narrator was a sort of relief during the play. Throughout the hour I had to pay attention to Portia and Nerissa, Antonia, the kids on the ground and whoever was taking main stage at the time, so when the Narrator took stage I could take a moment and appreciate what I had just watched.
  • The Impromptu-- I'm sure the actors spent hours memorizing, practicing and rehearsing for tonight's production, but I loved the vagaries of the plays. There were no scene changes or backstage action. I was able to see what most plays take great pain in concealing. When Bassanio was talking to Gratiano at the conclusion of the court scene, I was able to see acting at its rawest talent. No time to rehearse or memorize; the play had a one shot rule.
  • The Costumes-- Did anyone else notice the clothes? Bassiano's blue tinted hair? As a once blue haired person, I loved this unique costume decision. Did you notice Antonia was wearing heels? The actress playing Antonia was tall already, but when she had 3 inch heels on she could look Shylock level in the eyes. During their conversing scenes it would have been weird had Shylock been looking down at Antonia! Did you notice Portia also had blue hair tints? This blue hair idea intrigues me, and I can't figure out why they did that. Ideas?...