Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Shakespeare Goes to High School (the Movie!)

As the movie industry continues to reinvent itself, Shakespeare has been a mainstay amidst developing trends.  King John was one of the first silent films, and Taming of the Shrew one of the first to receive a soundtrack. Shakespeare’s characters have even found themselves reinvented as high school students in teen movies! Similarly, as technology has taken root as a vital tool in education teachers have used Shakespeare on film to enhance their lesson plans. The disadvantage to this is that film is a passive learning tool, and if only one film is presented then students tend to think that there is only one way to interpret a single play. However, the range of interpretations of one play in the hands of different directors and actors lends itself to discussions about the text for students who regularly entertain themselves at the movies.

Showing the same scene as interpreted by different directors displays how adaptable Shakespeare’s text is. For example, screening the scene in which Petruchio and Katherine meet in the 1929 “talkie,” again in the 1967 Zeffirelli-directed film, and again in the 1999 teen-adaptation 10 Things I Hate About You, students can develop a conversation about the ranges of interpretation open to Katherine’s resistance to Petruchio’s advances. To jumpstart discussion, try keeping the text in front of students while they watch to have them circle the words the actors choose to emphasize, and note the actors’ physicality and body language.

Filmmakers re-visit Shakespeare again and again because there is always another direction to take his work.  Plays can be done with lutes (Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet) or with rock songs (Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet).  They can take place in a castle (Oliver Parker’s Othello) or in a classroom (Tim Blake Nelson’s O).  They can be done without cuts (Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet) or with wild interpretation (Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet).  Discovering broad choices on film makes for a richer classroom discussion.

For more ideas on using film in the classroom, check out Mike LoMonico’s article for PBS.