Author Topic: Useful tips and links for teaching Shakespeare  (Read 1132 times)

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Offline ashishval44

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Useful tips and links for teaching Shakespeare
« on: May 18, 2016, 02:10:57 PM »
This post should be prefaced with a warning that most ESL/EFL teachers are already aware of: Shakespeare is incredibly difficult to teach even to native English speakers, so any unit that involves teaching Shakespeare to EFL/ESL students should have a strong intentional backing and be tailored to the students in such a way that the material is presented in an accessible and engaging manner. That said, as someone who studied Shakespeare as an English Lit major, and acted in and directed Shakespeare plays on campus with a student theatre company, I've come across a few tips that might be handy to bring the Bard to people who aren't readily familiar with him.


1) Watch it! Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, not to be read, and human speech naturally carries much more meaning in its intonations than we readily see on the page. If you're teaching specific plays, even the least well-known will have at least a few videos available from past productions, which you can use to help get meaning across to students. The more famous monologues, such as Hamlet's "To be or not to be..." and Richard III's "Now is the winter of our discontent..." have several video versions available on YouTube all on their own, in which famous actors from Laurence Olivier and Ian Mckellen to more up and coming modern performers, have all dramatically interpreted the monologues in their own ways.

David Morissey reading Richard III: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfaVYn1v4jM
Laurence Olivier reading Richard III: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDxnXgYPnKg
David Tennant (From Doctor Who!) reading Hamlet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u8OlUS7BhU
Adrian Lester reading Hamlet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muLAzfQDS3M


Watching people act out the plays and monologues has, in my experience, helped me and also other newcomers to Shakespeare intuitively understand the text much more than just trying to parse it out on the page. Seeing different versions of the same scene or monologue also helps students understand how ambiguous and open to subjective interpretation Shakespeare can be - looking at two or three different versions of Hamlet's soliloquy can help students see how different actors can reshape the same lines according to how they play them.


2) Emphasize Shakespeare's relevance: A lot of people come to Shakespeare thinking it's all tunics, tights, and a litany of rolled "r"s. Find characters and themes in the plays that relate to students' everyday lives (like how everyone knows two people that exactly match the sassy lovers' quarrel between Beatrice and Benedick in "Much Ado about Nothing" or how Othello is still starkly relevant to modern commentaries on racism), and emphasize how Shakespeare used not only elevated, but also coarse language and innuendos. Regarding innuendos, the Royal Shakespeare Company has a helpful article pointing out some of the bawdiest scenes in Shakespeare, with modern English translations of the innuendos: https://www.rsc.org.uk/shakespeare/language/slang-and-sexual-language.


3) Use the material out there: The Royal Shakespeare Company also has handy lesson packets and other educational resources tailored to teachers who are incorporating Shakespeare plays into their units. Here's one they made for Hamlet: https://www.rsc.org.uk/hamlet/education. It features a plot summary, a packet of dramatic performance and simple text analysis exercises, and a link to this BBC website which gives students a behind-the-scenes look at the David Tennant production of Hamlet: http://www.bbc.co.uk/hamlet/archive.shtml. The Royal Shakespeare Company has been making educational resources for almost every play they've put on, so regardless of what play you're doing, you'll probably find resources from them tailor-made to fit high school students (though they are mostly designed for native speakers of English, so you may have to pick and choose exercises depending on what you think the level of your students is).


Shakespeare can be very difficult to teach, but with these resources, hopefully you can make it work!