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 5 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.
When students entered the room, I had the desks pushed against the walls so they had a large performance area.
Students used the first ten minutes of class to gather costumes and run through their scenes. 2.1 Scene Presentations.docx They showed much more enthusiasm for finding costumes than they did for practicing the scene. This is typical, and I like to let them have fun dressing up, especially w/ a comedy because costuming adds to the humor of the scenes. Students in costumes and ready to perform
One boy asked, "Can I take my pants off. The dress covers everything. I'll put my pants back on when we finish."
I responded: "I don't care."
Just before we began the performance, the young man bent over as he was in my line of sight. "Don't bend over. Don't bend over." I repeated those words a number of times and swiveled in my chair to avoid seeing more! "Sometimes the view from the big desk is scary!" I proclaimed.
That moment of levity resulted in some uproarious laughter, but the show must go on!
I asked students to remember to present a summary of their scenes prior to their performances. Then each group took a turn performing the scenes.
Those in full costume did a better job getting into character.
The groups presented their summaries, but some took a little prompting to remember character names and the details they needed to share.
During their performances, I looked for the following:
Most groups struggled w/ internal cues suggesting movement onstage. I've included one group here to illustrate the student process:
Importantly, scene performances accomplish some important learning goals:
I passed out the handout "I'll attend her here." 2.1 I'll Attend Her Here, How to Woo a Wife 1.doc
I directed students to the scene and told them we'd work through this together. To help them with pacing and giving attention to punctuation, I reminded them that punctuation helps us read the text and reminds us that we don't read line by line but we pay attention to the punctuation and use it to guide our reading.
Then I read the instructions on the handout and read through Kate's Objections as Petruchio imagines them.
Next, I read the soliloquy to the class.
Moving back to the handout, I read each item and asked for Petruchio's planned response.
The first one, "Say that she rail..." elicited the response: "why then I'll tell her plain," which is an incomplete response based on the end of the line rather than the thought. I explained this to students and asked for the rest of the plan. This time students understood that they needed to look more closely at the text and complete the thought.
We continued w/ the other four objections Petruchio imagines Kate will have. Student work: Petruchio's Responses to Kate
As an exit ticket, I asked students to write a summary of their scene on the back of the "I'll Attend Her Here" handout. The photo shows the instructions.
Additionally, I asked students to incorporate a line from their scene into the summary and to include a parenthetical citation. Teacher lecture notes: Soliloquy and writing prompt
As students finished, I let them leave. Exit Ticket But a couple of students needed to revisit their summaries and incorporate the supporting line into them.
One student handed me a summary w/ out the "I'll Attend Her Here" completed. I sent him back to his seat to finish, which he protested: "I don't understand."
I responded: "We did this together, but you did not have the handout out. You chose not to complete the work as we discussed it."
He protested more: "You can keep me here all period, but I still don't understand."
I responded: "I'll help you."
Before I could get to him to offer additional help, he completed the assignment, although not as effectively as I would have liked.