By Jenna Gardner
BEFORE YOU WATCH
This is an activity I used with students at the beginning of Twelfth Night Act 2, scene 2 when Viola, disguised as Cesario, realizes that Olivia loves her because Olivia believes Viola to be “the man” she pretends to be.
The beauty of Shakespeare is in its performance, which allows students to hear and see his words and engage with all the possible meanings of a text. I wanted to help my students visualize Shakespeare’s language and to promote hypothesizing, discussion, debate, and critical reasoning regarding his implicit as well as explicit meanings in Twelfth Night. The online tool Voyant allows an entire text to be investigated by simply embedding a corpus copied and pasted from a website. Using Voyant and Folger Digital Texts, students can see the words of greatest frequency in a word cloud and perform keyword searches to see word frequency and area of occurrence in the text. Data in all the fields— word cloud, word trends, and keywords in context, etc.—can be exported and saved.
AFTER YOU WATCH
By using Voyant, my students engaged in a close reading of Viola’s soliloquy, “I left no ring with her…”, and through this tool my students began to see the role that disguise had already begun to play in Twelfth Night. Students had activating questions that they worked on in preparation for our in-class work and discussion. By manipulating and analyzing the text in Voyant, students tested questions, made observations, and drew conclusions about the force and impact of disguise in the rest of the play.
As a class we discussed Shakespeare’s use of disguise, and students began to generate other associated words—hide, deceive secret, deception, etc. Working in groups with laptops they tried out their brainstorming words and generated new terms they felt that were related to this idea of disguise. This could also be done with projecting the screen of one computer and having the class work collectively. Using Voyant’s tools to look at instances where these terms occurred in the play allowed them to see the rhythm of disguise within Shakespeare’s work and to be mindful of their occurrence when they emerged in later class readings. This activity works especially well when paired with student performance work. The whole idea of disguise really comes to life not just when students use Voyant to analyze it but when they speak and embody it.
This close reading focus on disguise also led to an in-depth discussion on the role of dramatic irony in comedy and why it is so essential. This was a text I taught at the beginning of the school year to develop my AP English Literature students’ close reading skills. All of their work led to writing an analytical essay on their close reading of this soliloquy.
Voyant can be used with any text that students find intimidating. It is a tool I used with our class study of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in which we examined her use of hellish and heavenly terms—angel, devil, fiend—and their importance in conveying her thematic inversion of meaning.
Please feel free to send me your questions or ideas by contacting me on Twitter! (@JennaGLit)
Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of our Teaching Twelfth Night with Technology series.
Jenna Gardner is an AP English Literature, Junior Language Arts, and AP Art History teacher at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, Georgia. Currently her students are in the midst of their Shakespeare Madness debates, which are calling on them to use their close reading skills to argue for Shakespeare’s ‘best’ play.