Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

The Games Are Over, Let the Games Begin!

This weekend saw the closing of the historic London Summer Olympics, and I’m sure everyone will still be buzzing about it for days to come! Our own Carol Kelly volunteered during the games, and rejoined us today still bubbling over with excitement, which, she says, is still glowing throughout London, as well.

While the modern games we know were revived in the 19th century (after having been abandoned during the 5th century in Greece as Rome became an Empire), the term “Olympic” was used to refer to  particularly athletic or physically apt men. Shakespeare himself used the term when referring to laudable, brave soldiers in III Henry VI, and again in Troilus and Cressida as Hector’s prowess in battle is described by Nestor.

Near the end of Shakespeare’s lifetime in 1612, a man by the name of Robert Dover organized the Cotswold Olimpick Games. Sports included horse-racing, running, sledgehammer throwing, dancing, and shin-kicking, among others. King James I approved the games, and they continued annually for about 50 years before becoming more well-known for the debauchery that took place there than the sporting events. The Cotswold Games were re-instituted in 1852, even as the Olympic Games were finding their footing on the world stage, again. The Cotswold Games became a regular annual event in 1966, and continue to this day! Yes, they still do shin-kicking.

But now this year’s games are over, and students will be turning again to school (with varying degrees of willingness) and you may be looking for them to reacquaint themselves with writing exercises that aren’t “How I Spent my Summer Vacation.”

Why not bring up the Olympics in discussion, and ask what they thought of the passage that opened and closed this year’s London games? We explore Caliban’s speech in the Music section of Shakespeare for Kids with an activity to connect students to the text aurally. If you have older students, there are several points to consider for discussion or writing prompts!

Sir Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel during the Opening Ceremony

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,

Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill during the Closing Ceremony

Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.”

The Tempest 3.2.148-156

The theme “Isles of Wonder” would certainly lend some weight to it as it highlights the long history of England, and the stunning visuals the games afforded. I, personally, found the athletes to be almost modern air spirits – leaping, twisting, sprinting, swimming, and moving with speed and agility it doesn’t seem possible for mortals to achieve.

What does this passage inspire in their imaginations, and what did it mean to the Olympic Games in London? What sort of ceremonial staging would they design to go with this speech? Where were they when they watched either ceremony (if they did?) and how did the speech make them feel?

What did you think of the choice of text for the ceremonies? Do you plan to talk about the Olympics in your class?

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