Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Dance to the Beat of Shakespeare

Shakesbear the mascot
Shakesbear, the club mascot.

By David Fulco

After-school programs find a way to weave themselves into the fabric of a school. At my school, all sixth and seventh grade students participate in after-school activities from 2:15-4:30pm, five days a week.

It has been more than evident during the school day that students are not only enjoying their after-school activities, but also building an appreciation for them.

Students in “Fit Club” ask for apples instead of candy at lunch. Students in “Computer Technology” build radio-controlled robots and walk them from class to class. There is a buzz and an energy in the air after school that is palpable.

And what of the Shakespeareans working through A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

The work my seventh grade Shakespeare troupe is doing after school is also starting to permeate the rest of their school day. In ELA, students are writing crossover pieces in a dystopian unit in which they choose 2-3 characters from different tales to create mash-ups of plots and themes. Titania has made an appearance in a story with Maleficent – the connection between the Indian boy and Aurora perhaps supplying the crux of the story arc.

“Helena from the Bronx” is now a popular drawing for the students to doodle in their notebooks. Helena wears her hair in a tight bun with a midriff shirt and a belly button ring, with a speech bubble saying, “The more I love, the more he hateth me”. (1.1.204)

But perhaps the most influential…

A week ago, a seventh grade student walked into my tenth grade classroom. Figuring she wanted a copy of Divergent, I was all prepared to tell her that I was fresh out.

“No, do you have it Mister?” she said. “You know, the step thing? I want to learn it.”

What she was referring to was Robin Goodfellow’s final speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The famous, “If we shadows have offended”, (5.1.440-455) in all its trochaic tetrameter glory. During an after-school session on Shakespeare’s Beat (found in Shakespeare Set Free) the students were asked to figure out the rhythm of Robin’s words.

What I thought would be a lesson on stressed and unstressed syllables suddenly became a choreographed step dance complete with claps and knee slaps as the students raced through the speech sounding a lot like Nicki Minaj. The students figured out that it was a lot easier to dance if the lines were memorized and proceeded to commit most of the lines to memory within the remaining 20 minutes of the period.

I now hear the students saying the lines as they walk through the hallways and watch them clapping softly as they wait to enter class. The lone drawback has been that students have been hesitant to move on from Robin’s speech and seemingly have an aversion to other scenes that don’t have as obvious a beat.

“But Mister, how are we supposed to dance to this?”

We have yet to name the dance, although Puck Promenade has a nice ring to it, but I can certainly see it being a coda to the play. After all, what’s a Shakespearean ending without a little dancing?

David Fulco teaches 10th grade English at MS/HS223 in the South Bronx. He is currently looking for a name for his all-girls, 7th grade Shakespeare Troupe. He was a member of TSI 2014.