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.
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.
Lesson 14 of The Taming of the Shrew.
In this lesson I introduced students to two Shakespearean scholars via interviews I conducted with them at The Folger Shakespeare Library.
A note on the term unmasked: Think about the text as a play to be performed on the stage. Actors wear costumes. In ancient Greece, playwrights such as Euripides wrote plays that were staged with actors who literally wore masks, generally w/ a type of megaphone that allowed their voices to be projected so that the audience could hear them. The idea of masking also appears in poetry, such as the Paul Lawrence Dunbar poem "We Wear the Mask," the theme of which is we all hide our true selves at times. That raises the question: Is the Kate we see at the beginning of the play really the true Kate? or put another way, "Is the Kate we see at the end of the play the true Kate?"
Tell students they will be watching an interview with two highly respected Shakespearean Scholars, Professor Jay Halio and Professor Stephen Dickey.
Professor Halio is the editor of the Cambridge Shakespeare editions and a lecturer at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Professor Stephen Dickey is a lecturer at UCLA and works with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Additionally, he is a visiting lecturer at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Since I want my students to take notes on the scholarly interviews I'll be showing, I need to give them the tools to do this in an efficient way. Thus, I teach them a summarizing technique called "GIST." A GIST summary is literally based on the idea of getting the gist of something. What's the gist? That's the guiding question. Additionally, students will need to attempt to keep their summaries to exactly 20 words. This takes practice and close listening, which is why I give this parameter to students.
To teach GIST...
First, give students a copy of the GIST summarizing document. GIST Summarizing
I tell students where I got the idea for GIST and have the citation at the bottom of the page.
Next, review the definition of "GIST" and the purpose of the handout. Tell students that they are not limited to five sentences, even though the doc shows only five places where they can write sentences.
Invite students to use their own paper for their "GIST" sentences.
Give the following instructions:
Next, put the professors' names on the board so students can write them on their papers w/ correct spelling.
Play the interview, pausing periodically so students can get "the gist" of the argument and complete their GIST sentences. I tell students not to obsess too much about their sentence lengths at this point. They can tweak them later.
At one point during Professor Dickey's comments, I paused to define metadrama: A play that draws attention to acting in a play. That is, a metadrama makes us, the audience, think about the play as a work of art. I tell students that when a work of literature functions to make us pay attention to its genre or structure in this way, we need to ask why. This clarification helps them understand the themes of the professors' interviews.
Once students have listened to the interviews and have composed their GIST sentences, invite them to compose their summaries.
Since the summaries are based on the sentences, and since the sentences are in the order of the interview, this should be a matter of copying and editing, as the student sample shows: Gist Summarizing Student Example. This student's work shows his sentences followed by his summary. Additionally, the student has the definition of metadrama at the top of the page.
Since this lesson is all about masking and unmasking characters, one way students can see how this works in TTotS is by creating a doubling chart. A doubling chart shows how an actor can play more than one part in a play, depending on when a character is onstage.
Additionally, the doubling chart is another way students can increase their understanding of The Taming of the Shrew as a play within a play that makes us think about the ways people deceive one another, pretend, and mask their identities.
First, I give the students a list of characters from the play: Doubling Chart Character List.
I tell students that actors often play more than one part in a play, depending on when each character is on stage. This is another way we can think about masking and deceiving in TTotS.
Next, I put a chart on the board that students can use as a guide for their charts. Sample Doubling Chart I tell students this is only an example of how to construct the chart. They will need to add the other 21 characters and go through the play to discover when each character appears in each act. The remainder of the time is used creating the chart, which we will discuss during the next class period.