Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Silent Shakespeare

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By Deborah Gascon

Have you ever seen any silent films of Shakespeare’s plays?

During the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, I sat for hours in the belly of the Folger Shakespeare Library watching black-and-white silent films of Othello and Romeo and Juliet—and it was the best day ever.

I was fascinated—how does a play with such essential language become silent? I realized while sitting in that basement that this would be an effective and quick tool to teach emotion, facial expressions, and pantomiming in acting (which all lead to understanding tone!).

When you watch a silent film, the most important words and emotions pop up on the screen, which makes it an effective way to help students engage in close reading and narrow the text for the main idea (which leads to understanding theme!).

And these silent films aren’t terribly hard to uncover; I found several of them on YouTube.

To use this in the classroom, I had students film 2-minute pantomime scenes from the required summer reading. (We are a 1:1 iPad school, but you could use any camera or even perform live with a narrator.) Students can stream the most important lines (or thoughts) across the lower thirds, add some music to enhance tone, and then share the scenes with the class.

Try using this Shakespeare Silent Scenes handout: Six Silent Scenes

This activity can be done with non-Shakespeare texts as well. Last year I had one student read an important scene from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening aloud while two students pantomimed what was being described.

We had a rich discussion about the body language and the meaning of the movements Chopin described. These are details my students tend to skim over when reading, which makes this five-minute exercise even more valuable.

Deborah Gascon teaches English 2 and AP Literature and Composition at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, South Carolina. She can be reached at dgascon@lexrich5.org.

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