Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Grammatical Flourishes with Shakespeare

~by Emily DenBleyker

I am not a teacher. I dropped my education major my first semester of college, and I have never looked back. And yet, somehow, in the funny way that life seems to happen to us, I ended up scheduled to teach a writing class for 8-10 year-olds at the day camp where I worked as an assistant.

“Ok,” I thought. “This won’t be too bad. I know how to write. I’ve been with these kids all summer. I’ll just pull out what I know and it’ll be great.”

What I know is Shakespeare.

So day three of the class was dubbed “Literary Flourish Day: Metaphor, Imagery, and Meter.” The day before, I had been trying to explain “showing versus telling” to the students, and these elements are good examples of how to do that. And what better writer to use an example than the master of showing?

We started with metaphor, using Romeo’s “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright./It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/As a rich jewel in and Ethiop’s ear.” We worked through all the language and figured out what it meant, and we discussed how we knew how beautiful Juliet was to Romeo, without him ever using the word “beautiful.” Then the students drew a picture of Juliet – how they saw Juliet through Romeo’s description of her. Most of them picked up on the image of an earring and had Juliet wearing large hoops; some of them even picked a time period and made “’80s Juliet,” in neon and teased hair.

For imagery, we used The Seven Ages of Man, from As You Like It. I wrote each age on a giant notepad, and again, we worked through it and visualized each stage, picking out the characteristics of the age, both physical and emotional. Then each student (luckily, there were 7 that day) picked an age and acted it out. Their favorite image, undeniably, was the infant, “mewling and puking.” They all pretended to mewl and puke for about 10 minutes.

Lastly, we tackled rhythm. We talked about rhythm in music, and then we turned to Macbeth, using some of the “Double, double, toil and trouble” rap to show it in literature. Then the students made metrical lists of their favorite things and presented them to the class.

I am not a teacher. But being able to show these children how beautiful life can be, on the page and the stage, made me so thankful for the teachers we do have: those with a passion to take the beautiful things we’ve been given and introduce them to the next generation, passing wisdom and the value of aesthetics down through the ages.

People hundreds of years ago recognized the value of Shakespeare’s words, the relevancy they carry even to 8-10 year olds, so let’s continue that tradition. Share the lessons you’ve learned from Macbeth and the Henrys, from Cordelia and Miranda. Show them the richness of words, the images they can conjure, and the meaning they can give to life. We can all be teachers. Some people just get paid for it.

And for the record, when I asked the students at the end of the week what their favorite activity had been, a good majority of them said, “Learning about that Shakespeare William guy.”

Emily DenBleyker was the spring 2013 Folger Education intern. She is now a senior at Gordon College, completing degrees in music and communications. Her roommates tolerate her rants on the beauty of words, if only because she edits their papers.

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