Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Early Week Two: 7/9 – 7/10

During this month’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute, some of our Summer Scholars have chosen to blog their experiences on their own sites, and have given permission to share some of them here. Today, Abbey Hope shares her experience from last week’s busy first days, and her takeaways from working with our Scholars and Guest Lecturers.

(Editor’s Note: This post has been edited for length. Days are full at TSI!)

First of all, I would like to say that I was a fool to think I could blog every day.  Last week was such a whirlwind of learning and working that I had no time at all for reflecting or writing.  (Well, somewhere around Thursday or Friday I think I managed to post about our theatre trip from the previous Saturday!)

Monday was positively jam-packed.  [We spent the afternoon] in both lecture / demonstration, and working collaboratively to try out the methodologies of Mary Ellen Dakin, English teacher at Revere HS and author of Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults and Reading Shakespeare Film First.  Ms. Dakin said her essential question is “How should we read Shakespeare in the 21st century with all our students?  Her answer, in a nutshell, was to suggest we use a triangle:


                    Theatrical                                                          Cinematic

You might imagine that there are arrows showing the regular movement in both directions from point to point on this triangle.  There are many ways teachers can embrace this; Dakin said you might start with still images, but she had brought video cameras with her so that we could try a full on film-making  project.  We were given about one hour before lunch and another hour after lunch to make a film about the making of a film, in a sense.  So the film showed our groups working and discussing the scene we were assigned, and also interviewing experts and amateurs, rehearsing, and finally shooting our final project.  We edited all of this together after lunch and then showed the results.  I have to say, I loved working with my group, Robert, Kim, and Charlene, on our scene from The Taming of the Shrew.  I wish I could link to the film so you all could see it!  The most exciting thing we discovered in this process was that the rehearsal and production process entails many close readings, and students will be sure to reach deep understandings of complex literature in this way.

On Tuesday Jay Halio, who wrote, among other things, Understanding Shakespeare’sMerchant of Venice, which I consulted yesterday in my research, presented the morning lecture on Staging The Merchant of Venice.  The big question is, do you stage it as a tragedy or a comedy?  For the first performances, did Will Kempe, who played the clown roles play Shylock or Lancelot Gobo?  Was Shylock presented as a comic villain, as some think?  Or as a tragic hero as is more often the case?  Shakespeare, himself, who often took an older role, may have played Antonio.

There were many other interesting point to Jay’s lecture, and it was a pleasure to discuss them in our new seminar groups with Margaret Mauer.  We decided our main points would be
*  Anti-semitism
*  Antonio
*  Sympathies toward characters?
*  Parallel Marital Situations of Portia and Jessica
*  Stereotypes
*  Love and Finance Language
*  Portia as a character.

Margaret led off by saying:  “Theories of comedy are no laughing matter.”

Several of us were quite happy to forgo sandwiches and lunchtime colloquium for our “Free Lunch Tuesday.”  After lunch we divided into our acting groups:  Montagues and Capulets.  I, with the Capulets, joined Caleen Sinnette-Jennings in the Theatre.  I am sworn to secrecy regarding what we did there, but suffice it to say, I came out a much freer actor than I was before.

Abbey currently teaches English at the High School for Arts and Technology in New York, NY. In addition to bringing Shakespeare to her students, she has also taught a wide variety of forms of writing: business writing, journalism, screenwriting, creative writing, and college prep writing. She is a leader in curriculum development in her school. Abbey holds a Master of Education degree from Lehman College as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Massachusetts

One Comment

  • Glad to hear the new TSI group is having such a rewarding experience. I’m off to order Mary Ellen Dakin’s book based on Abbey’s description of the triangle! Very cool.

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