Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education at the RSC, wrote a letter to The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2009/nov/o7/gcses-school-curriculum-shakespeare) about the importance of Shakespeare in the curriculum. Folger Education has been advocating for the performance-based teaching of Shakespeare in the schools for more than twenty-five years. Folger Education defines performance-based teaching as “… an interactive approach to the study of literature, particularly Shakespeare’s plays and poems, in which students participate in a close reading of the text through intellectual, physical, and vocal engagement.” Getting students up and on their feet speaking the lines, questioning the text, trying out different ways of making meaning in a scene can help prepare students for other challenging texts. We believe that this approach to teaching Shakespeare can yield benefits for teaching other subjects and literary genres as well. When students are actively engaged in their learning, they can achieve tremendous results.
While they are up on their feet, they should also be engaged in speaking the language that Shakespeare used when he wrote his plays and poems. Telling the story of Romeo and Juliet in modern language isn’t the same as speaking the language used in Shakespeare’s play. If students are not speaking Shakespeare’s language, then they really aren’t “doing Shakespeare.” At a recent workshop for students, we helped them to see how easily they could access Shakespeare’s text and make sense of it. We believe that all students can work with Shakespeare’s language. At our recent Secondary School Festival more than 1,200 students performed scenes from many of Shakespeare’s plays, and they demonstrated a clear understanding of the text. In May, when hundreds of students in grades 3-6 at schools across Washington DC and the surrounding area tread the boards at the Folger Theatre for our Emily Jordan Children’s Festival, we will once again see youngsters engaging the text of Shakespeare’s plays and having a great time doing so. Shakespeare in the original is for all students.