Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Teaching Shakespeare FAQs

Teaching Shakespeare can seem daunting, especially if you’re teaching Shakespeare for the first time or if your students are encountering Shakespeare for the first time. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions. Our experience is that with a little preparation, studying Shakespeare can be fun and rewarding for all students – and their teachers.

Do I need to teach the entire play?
Sometimes it is better to do just part of a play rather than the whole play. A single scene, for example, can be a very effective way to introduce students to Shakespeare.  Or you might opt for a Shakespeare sampler, using several scenes from different plays.

How long does it take to teach a play?
A Shakespeare unit can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on your students. You may want to spend a few days to introduce the play’s major characters and themes, or you could spend a couple of weeks exploring several scenes, key ideas, and multiple interpretations. Full play units, such as the ones in Shakespeare Set Free, can take up to six weeks to teach. You do NOT need to start with Act 1, Scene 1 and you do NOT need to labor over every word.

Which edition of the play is best to use with students?
The Folger Shakespeare Library paperback editions are relatively inexpensive, and easy to use, with the text on one page and footnotes and scene summaries on the facing page. Be aware that Shakespeare plays in literature anthologies often edit out some of the more bawdy content—content which students often love. They are also very heavy to carry around when students are performing scenes.

Should I start with the movie?
One disadvantage with watching a film version first is that students equate this version with the play and have difficulty realizing that scenes and lines can be interpreted and enacted in many different ways. One way around this is to start with one scene which your students read and perform. Follow this activity by showing clips from several film versions of the same scene. This strategy enables allow for some meaningful discussion about possible interpretations.

What if I have never read the play before?

Learn along with your students—model for them the enthusiasm and excitement that comes with authentic learning.

Do I need to teach about the Globe Theatre or Shakespeare’s Life?

The simple answer is “No.” While telling students that Shakespeare had three children and that he and Anne Hathaway had to get married might be interesting, it really doesn’t help them understand the plays. It’s much better to integrate some facts about Elizabethan life when they come up in the plays. So when Francis Flute protests, “Let me not play a woman. I have a beard coming” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that’s the perfect opportunity to explain the Elizabethan stage convention of young men playing the female parts.

Are student projects helpful?
Designing Globe Theatres out of sugar cubes and Popsicle sticks, designing costumes, creating Elizabethan newspapers in the computer lab, doing a scavenger hunt on the Internet, or doing a report on Elizabethan sanitary conditions has nothing to do with a student’s appreciation of Shakespeare’s language. If you want to give students a project, have them select, rehearse, and perform a scene.

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