Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Seeing Shakespeare

from HAMLET, Folger Theatre 2010

To quote our Bill’s Buddies mantra: “Shakespeare wrote plays, which means they were meant to be Seen and Heard.”

Not read silently to oneself.

And not simply read aloud in a round robin in class. Part of the experience is watching how characters interact, and how the words can be used to inform action. Getting students on their feet with the language, looking for action clues in the text to inform their movements, helps them to understand that performing Shakespeare isn’t how it looks on TV: planting your feet and declaring your lines – it’s full of the action and excitement we still get in modern entertainment!

A great way to show this to your students is to take them to a performance. Seeing actors performing Shakespeare’s plays brings it home that these are vital and humanly connected pieces of theatre – not just old words on a page.

While you’re planning your field trips for the year, consider your local theatre companies: do they perform Shakespeare? Do they have student matinees, or evening performances your students could get to on their own? Will you be teaching the play they’re performing, or can you relate it to the one you are teaching? Shakespeare’s plays are public domain – which means anyone, anywhere can perform one of his plays for free – so across the world thousands of companies from amateur to professional will be performing Shakespeare at any given time!

It’s worth looking at this list of Shakespeare Festivals and Theatres compiled by the Shakespeare Fellowship, but just as worthy is looking at your local culture scene. Community theatre, college theatre, high schools, professionals, touring houses… If anyone is putting on a Shakespeare play, consider taking your students to see it and discussing the performance with them as part of your Shakespeare unit. What about the performance worked? If it was modernized – how did the text support their changes – or did it not work? What connections did your students feel with the characters, and was that any different from how they felt when reading it themselves?

Seeing Shakespeare in performance opens up an entirely new discussion field for your class. What sort of performances are available in your area? Do you take your students to see performances? Let us know in the comments!

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