Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Shakespeare in American Classrooms

Shakespeare's statue in Central Park was the first sculpture of a writer to be placed on the Mall, known informally as Literary Walk. Edwin Booth assisted in the design.

In 2007 the Folger offered an exhibit about Shakespeare in American Life. One of the focuses was how Shakespeare has been taught to American students since the colonies were founded.  You can listen to the podcasts related to this exhibit through that link, or on iTunes.

Originally, passages from Shakespeare’s plays were placed alongside passages from other sources and students were meant to memorize them. Those passages were not put into context of the play which they were from, instead students would simply memorize “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” and move onto memorizing Genesis.  In the 350-ish years since then, educators have discovered that performing his work is the most effective way of teaching it. Instead of memorizing the speeches, students are performing whole scenes aloud, or even whole plays.

How much context is necessary when introducing a play?  Should the whole story be laid out before reading the first word? Should each scene be explained before saying one line from it? Or, in reverse, should the scene be read then reviewed for the plot?  Is reading a whole play necessary, or are just the “interesting parts” ok?

I aplogize for the multitude of questions, but what works best for your class? Please leave comments, and enjoy the long weekend (or your continued vacation) for Independence Day!

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