Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Illuminating Shakespeare

Anyone who has spent a brief moment of time with someone from Folger Education knows that we are avid believers in introducing students to Shakespeare through performance-based teaching, that is, an interactive approach to the study of literature in which students participate in a close reading of text through intellectual, physical, and vocal engagement. Certainly, that may include students participating in language-based activities, working on scenes from the text, or putting together a full or truncated production of the play being studied. But what is the total extent of performance-based teaching? Are there other interactive approaches that can engage a student intellectually, physically, and vocally?

One of the things I have come to appreciate most about Folger Shakespeare Library is the diversity of approaches that the Folger as an institution takes towards the study of Shakespeare. While other establishments may be a theatre, a museum, a library, or a research organization, the Folger houses all of these. Additionally, we are a conservation lab, an early music consort, a poetry and lectures hotspot, and a place where students from grade three through post-graduate studies can learn more about Shakespeare.

I don’t mention these things to brag. I say this because I love the fact that the very nature of the Folger reflects what I believe about the study of Shakespeare: that the methods of approach are as diverse as people are, and the possibilities are only limited by our own creativity.

The Folger’s High School Fellowship program includes a component known as an illumination project. The illumination project allows students to take Shakespeare’s text and apply it to a different medium in order to explore meaning, enhance understanding, and present a point of view. It is an opportunity for students to integrate new thoughts, ideas, and attitudes explored through the works of Shakespeare with a pre-existing interest or area of study. It is a chance to carry out a valuable, in-depth study of Shakespeare through a medium that is connected to their own interests and to experience how Shakespeare may be applied to other fields of study.

In the past, illumination projects have been approached in a number of ways and have involved a variety of mediums. Here are some examples of the types of approaches that could be used in this project:

  • Visual Art – i.e., creating drawings, photographs, mixed media, comic book, etc. that integrates Shakespeare’s text.
  • Music – i.e., “scoring” text to self-written songs, composing music for Shakespeare’s songs or other pieces of Shakespeare’s text, etc.
  • Technology – i.e., remixing Shakespeare through Audacity or Garageband, creating a photo montage with sounds and text through Photostory, designing a website, animation, powerpoint, or podcasts, etc.
  • Creative Writing – i.e., writing/illustrating a children’s story that distills Shakespeare’s text, fusing personal poetry with Shakespeare’s text, etc.
  • Theatrical Design – i.e., designing costume renderings, a set model, soundscape, and/or light plot based on your own directorial concept of a scene, etc.

Perhaps there are students in your class who would rather eat hot coals than stand in front of a group of people and act in a play. Perhaps, for whatever reason, this is not the year your school will be able to produce a Shakespeare play. Do not be daunted. See what happens when you let your students loose on Shakespeare’s text with their own creative outlets. The results may be surprising, exciting, and delightful.

To see examples of past student work, visit the High School Fellowship Program online gallery.


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