Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

TSI Reflections: Confidence, Tools, and Knowledge

Mary Bevilacqua
Mary Bevilacqua

To celebrate the 30-year milestone for the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute, we’re doing a series of interviews with alumni.

A few days ago, we talked with Geoff Stanbury, who participated in the 2010 TSI program. For our next interview, we turned to Mary Bevilacqua, a 1991 TSI alum who was a teacher for 30 years. Mary taught 9th grade English and AP Literature for twelfth graders at Western High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

How did TSI change the way you teach?

TSI changed the way I teach because it gave me the confidence, the tools and the knowledge that enabled me to transform my classroom into a miniature TSI, complete with costumes, set designs, and not only reading, but also acting out the plays.  The best part: I did it with “regular” classes, along with gifted and AP. And I incorporated it in everything we studied, especially poetry.

Can you share a favorite memory from TSI?

Our company acted a scene from King Lear as if it were The Godfather. Never had so much fun in all my life. Plus, I could honestly tell my students that I was reluctant also in the beginning.

What’s been the most rewarding part of teaching Shakespeare? Was there a moment that felt particularly meaningful?

Turning kids on to the magnificent genius and wisdom of the Bard. They ran to class when we read Shakespeare, and years later they tell me how he continues to enrich their lives.

Can you share a practical classroom tip or a favorite activity that you use for teaching Shakespeare?

Set up the plot by relating it to the present à la West Side Story; stop frequently to explain, answer questions, and start class the next day by letting them explain what happened, etc.  If they understand it, they always love it.

What’s one piece of advice that you would share with English teachers who are teaching Shakespeare for the first time?

Know the play well. Also, have fun with the plot, characters and language. Be bawdy when it’s bawdy!

Anything else that you’d like to share about your TSI experience?

One of the best experiences of my life. To live at Georgetown, study at the Folger while daily immersed in Shakespeare, and be with people who felt as I did made it heaven on earth!