Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

"the spirit of humour intimate reading aloud to him!"

The internet is full of stories of hope, which are shared over and over again as a way of boosting each other’s spirits. This one especially resonated when it was shared with us not only because Shakespeare’s words reached across the centuries to buoy this writer, but because they reached him out loud. This is the essence of what students take away from performance-based learning experiences. “I found myself discovering that the whole point of the project — to simply read the plays aloud — got me halfway to understanding the text. ”

I’ll give the rest of this post to author DG Strong’s own words (with some emphasis from me), and encourage you to read the full article, How Shakespeare got me through Unemployment. Does your community have a program like this? Have any students enjoyed a similar experience? Let us know in the comments!

“As far back as high school, Shakespeare seemed like something I could admire but never truly love or understand. Like everyone ever born, I had to memorize and recite (disastrously, in the end) Mark Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech in English class, but that was about the extent of my Shakesperience. But here I was, in a roomful of everyday people, reading in their everyday voices, and as the lines flew by and the pages turned, I saw — or, rather, heard — a whole world opening up to me. Shakespeare no longer seemed impenetrable. And I had a sneaky feeling there was nothing going on in my life that he didn’t have an angle on. If I showed up every month, I’d discover them all.

The first few times I hid in the corner and read along silently. It took a few months before a freakishly low turnout forced me to sit at the grown-up table and read aloud from “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” At first, it wasn’t exactly a natural feeling, and no matter how many times I peeked ahead to see which line I’d get, the words never quite tripped off my tongue. I mangled a lot of lines. But there was no denying the thrill I felt when I managed to get to the end of a longish speech and realized there was a grin a mile wide on my face. Suddenly I wanted all the long speeches, all the big moments. From that moment on, the library would have to be on fire for me to give up my reading chair.”

One Comment

  • It reminds me of Robert Pinsky’s Poetry Project. The link below has a poignant story about what Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 meant to a boy in an orphanage, after his seventh-grade English teacher had him memorize it. In the brief video clip, the now 81-year-old retired anthropologist tells the story of how much this poem has meant to him the rest of his life.


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