Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Who Lights The Fire?

Yeats is the guy who said that education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.  What I think about all the time is how that fire gets lit.  What’s the spark that turned you on to Shakespeare?  Who or what lit that fire or that fuse for you?

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Why am I thinking about the fire and from whence it comes?  Since the beginning of March—a scant six weeks ago—here’s what’s been visible at this lively shoebox of a library:

  • 1500 middle and high school kids packed into our theatre performing Shakespeare scenes for one another to wild applause during the Secondary School Shakespeare Festival
  • The Folger Theatre’s sold-out run of Richard III
  • Our Shakespeare’s Birthday Open House brought thousands home to us–every age of  man (and woman) touring our spaces, performing on our stage, building coats of arms, taking a turn in Elizabethan clothing, speaking Shakespeare, and loving it all
  • Shakespeare and The Problem of Biography, a three-day conference at which 150 scholars from across the world wrestled with the concept of biography in general, and of Shakespeare’s and others in particular
  • A hefty pile of applications from teachers who wished to participate in Teaching Shakespeare Institute 2014, our NEH summer institute for schoolteachers
  • A growing pile of applications from rising tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders who wish to be Folger High School Fellows during Fall 2014
  • A lovely slate of third through sixth graders from 30 elementary schools, all set to participate in our Children’s Shakespeare Festival in a couple of weeks’ time.

Kind of a roaring fire, no? We’re lighting some tapers for sure. At the same time, we receive the benefit of lots of sparks started by others. Will the little girls and boys rapt at the stage combat demo on our front lawn grow up with an appetite for Hamlet or Macbeth? Spark? What happened in the lives of their parents (or uncles or friends)–who brought them to our Shakespeare’s Birthday party–that caused us to be a destination on that great and wonderful afternoon? Spark? Check out even a handful of Teaching Shakespeare Institute applications from teachers across the country:  sparks for sure. Received from whom?  We’re not sure.  But now shooting out sparks to generations of students.  Thank goodness.

Who lit the spark for you? A teacher? A production? Your mom? Kenneth Branagh? Julie Taymor? Baz Luhrman? Denzell in those fabulous leather pants? (Especially when he’s speaking Shakespeare.)  Since teaching is the business of ignition, we’re all about sparks. Tell us about yours in the comments or send me an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger 

One Comment

  • Janet Field-Pickering (Folger) and Rob Watson (UCLA) put me on the right path to learn Shakespeare’s language. It was 1998 or 1999 in Platteville, WI. Before that, teaching Shakespeare frightened me and I didn’t enjoy it. 11 years later, I applied and was accepted for TSI. Funny how things work out…

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