How should we study and teach Shakespeare's plays? From the earliest days of my career, this question has echoed in my mind. Yet despite my drama certification, I allowed myself to be influenced by prevailing pedagogy and for years eschewed what I knew in my heart, soul, and mind: Plays are meant to be performed. This is how actors study a play, by blocking and close oral reading of lines.
Not until I studied with the Folger Shakespeare library did I return to my roots. Thus, this unit showcases my pedagogical philosophy that performance pedagogy represents best practices for teaching Shakespeare in ELA classrooms.
Lesson 2 for The Taming of the Shrew
A note on the text: I use the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of The Taming of the Shrew; consequently, all textual references correspond to that text. It's available online as a digital edition (free) from the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Give students 10 minutes to write on the following quick write prompt: Taming of the Shrew Quick Write.docx
After students write, ask if anyone wants to share. My students wanted to talk about and describe what they had written, but I want them to read what they have written. I decided to have them talk about their writing in the context of the next part of the lesson.
Ask students to define:
Students wanted to talk about sexism. So into this were they that keeping the conversations separate was challenging as they all wanted to talk at once. They commented on
I thanked them for raising important legal concerns regarding gender issues and told the class that these questions arise in The Taming of the Shrew. I had to cut the conversation short so we could get to the play.
Students easily defined stereotype as labeling and categorizing someone based on a generality.
When we got to shrew, one girl said, "I've never even heard that word before." I needed to hear that so that I could give students the definition used in Shakespeare's time. Later I'll show them the specific uses of the term in the play.
Beginning the play and getting students up on their feet takes patience. The language is unfamiliar to them, and they're generally trying to second guess what the teacher wants.
I begin Act 1 by reading lines 1-45 to students. This gives them a chance to hear me use the punctuation and gets them familiar w/ the language.
Before reading, I tell students to listen for "humorous moments" in the text and to note those moments on their paper.
The most frequent comments I heard from students during this time included:
I paused about five minutes into their work and said, "What makes something humorous? Think about that," and "You need to be out of your seats so you can play with the lines. Sitting won't help you work out how to make the lines funny." Additionally, I told them they don't have to present the entire 45 lines.
When time was up, I reminded students that they need to be out of their seats and offered them two more minutes. I heard some moaning, so I said, "Okay, you can have three more minutes." No one complained.
We had time for several pairs to present, and all struggled. However, this video shows two students who played up the physicality of some lines, and their performance had many laughing: IMG_1534.MOV I do think some students were surprised when Dylan pushed Lumen onto the couch; however, it was a great way to use the classroom resources available.
More importantly, when I asked students, "Who has power in the relationship between Lucentio and Tranio, all knew the answer."
At the end of the period, I asked the class "What makes something funny? Think about movies, television shows, and other performances." They came up w/ a good list:
"Indeed," I said. "Humor relies not just on the words on the page but also on the physical movement and on what we do w/ our voices. Think about that as we work through the play."