Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Circle Performances with Shakespeare

By Deborah Gascon

It’s September and the weather is cooling down, but your students’ love for Shakespeare is warming up, right? Okay, maybe not love like, “will you go to the homecoming dance with me?” love, but maybe a lukewarm shyness sort of love? Your students aren’t ready to dance with Shakespeare, but definitely have been making eye contact and passing notes in class (or sending iMessages for you techie-teachers?).

My new batch of students haven’t experienced too much Shakespeare yet, but I have been dotting my daily lessons with a little bit of Shakespeare and performance-based instruction. By prom, they’ll all be asking their new love Super-Shakes to be their date.

Let me tell you about a quick and easy way to include the Folger’s approach to performance-based learning in our daily classroom lives.

My good friend Greta Brasgalla has her students memorize the death scenes from different Shakespearean plays. The students practice their lines, add inflection and intonation, make some props, rehearse, then perform. The performance takes place in a circle. Each student says his/her line, dies… next student says his/her line, dies… until the circle is completely dead. Too morbid for you? You could use love scenes. Or insults. Or compliments. Or opening lines.

Death scene from Shakespeare performed at the Folger's Secondary School Festival in 2013.
A death scene from Shakespeare performed at the Folger’s Secondary School Festival in 2013. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

I’ve done the circle performance with the Seven Ages of Man (visit my last post for that lesson). The purpose of the lesson is for students to analyze meaning through close reading as well as gain a bit of exposure to Shakespeare’s language. Students could also compare and contrast the different death lines and research the meaning of that line in relation to the character who’s speaking.

Here’s a handout of lines you can use: Famous Last Words

Try it in your class and share your experiences in the comments section!

Deborah Gascon teaches English 2 and AP Literature and Composition at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, South Carolina.  She often dreams of her double date to prom with Shakespeare and Dickens.  She can be reached at dgascon@lexrich5.org.

Be sure to subscribe to Making A Scene so that you don’t miss Deborah’s next blog post about using silent films to teach Shakespeare!