Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Shakespeare in American Life: Bringing American History into the English Classroom

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With the Fourth of July holiday weekend behind us, many teachers are turning again to the task of curriculum-building for the upcoming school year and thinking about ways to get this fresh batch of students interested in studying Shakespeare.

Consider how it came to be that Americans over the centuries have so heartily embraced Shakespeare, an Englishman, as one of their own. Take this Henry David Thoreau quote, for instance:

“True, we have declared our independence, and gained our liberty, but we have dissolved only the political bonds which connected us with Great Britain; though we have rejected her tea she still supplies us with food for the mind. Milton and Shakespeare, Cowper and Johnson, with their kindred spirits, have done and are still doing as much for the advancement of literature, and the establishment of a pure and nervous language, on this as on the other side of the water.”

If you’re looking for some good history tie-ins, we have a fantastic online resource for you: Shakespeare in American Life.

This website and its accompanying radio documentary explore Shakespeare’s impact on the American identity, particularly in politics and the experiences of immigrants and minority groups; Shakespeare’s influence in the American classroom and the public arena; and Shakespeare’s abiding presence on stage and on screen.

In addition to all of this rich material, the Folger has provided lesson plans related to Shakespeare and American life, such as this one drawing connections between The Tempest and immigration patterns in American history.

Also, give a listen to the radio documentary, which is broken into three parts of an hour each; consider playing an excerpt for your students, having them take notes, and leading a discussion afterward.


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