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 4 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.
Choral Reading Rationale:
The tension that develops between Kate and Petruchio, between Kate and Baptista, and between Kate and Biannca is grounded in gender issues. To assist students in understanding this tension, this conflict, I designed this lesson based on the argument Kate and Petruchio have when they first meet. Kate is defensive already because of issues between herself and family members. That relationships spills over into her first encounter with Petruchio.
By having students play with Shakespeare's language in a choral reading, I'm able to emphasize this tension as students have fun with the male/female bantering.
As students entered the room, I handed them a copy of An Insulting Conversation 2.1.201-272.docand asked them to line up with girls on one side and boys on the other.
Next I told the class that Kate and Petruchio eventually meet, and this is conversation ensues.
Before beginning the reading, I asked students what Petruchio wants. They responded in unison: "To marry Kate."
Next I asked, "What's Kate want?" And they again responded w/ multiple voices: "To not get married."
I told the girls they are all Kate and the boys are all Petruchio. Then I said I'd count down and we'd begin reading but that we needed to keep the pace fast.
The first reading was rough, so we tried again.
Before the third reading I asked, "What does Petruchio want from Kate?"
Answer in unison: "For Kate to marry him."
My response: "Then how will he act toward Kate?" Someone said, "Insulting," which probably came from the handout.
Another student responded: "No, he compliments her and says nice things to her."
Then I asked, "And how does Kate respond?"
Several students said, "She's insulting."
So I told the students to think about that when they read the lines. This video shows the students' third time with the choral reading:
As both my questions to students and their responses indicate, the choral reading helps them understand the plot and relationship issues in the scene. Essentially, the choral reading functions as a close reading of the text, particularly as we perform is several times.
After the choral reading performance, students are ready to plan their own performance of a scene, with scaffolding from me, of course. It's important that students transfer the close reading from the first activity to the next one. They're more willing to attempt close reading in small groups and scene planning because they are beginning to realize that this physical connection to language helps them understand the play w/out simply completing a worksheet. Also, they're playing parts, which we show with the use of props and costuming.
Next I gave students the Act 2: Scene Presentation handout: 2.1 Scene Presentations.docx
I explained to students that they would be working in groups and that we would draw from an envelop to see who would be in each scene.
I put the following scenes, which I have listed on the handout, in an envelop. I multiplied the slips based on the number of characters in each scene. I held back the 2.2.175 1/2 - 295 slips just in case I had absences. This is a scene I could omit from the performances because I already had students work w/ parts of it in the choral reading and have other work w/ it planned.
The scenes in the envelop:
2.1.1-40: Kate, Baptista, Biance (3 copies)
2.1.41-92: Baptista, Gremio, Petruchio (3 copies)
2.1.93-148: Baptista, Tranio, Petruchio (3 copies)
2.1.149-175 ½: Baptista, Hortensio, Petruchio (3 copies)
*2.1.175 ½-295: Petruchio and Kate (2 copies)
2.1.296-342: Petruchio, Baptista, Kate, Gremio, Tranio (5 copies)
2.1.343-435: Gremio, Baptista, Tranio (3 copies)
Next, I reviewed the instructions and gave the students ten minutes silent reading time to read through their scenes.
Finally, I instructed students to make a drawing of a stage and label the areas, which they did: Stage Diagram w/ Character PlacementI asked students to use this drawing to show where their characters will move during the scene.
Rather than standing at the front of the room and reading lines, I want students to move based on the following:
To really understand the purpose of planning movement (blocking), I ask students to think about the following:
I gave students a good chunk of time to work in their groups and suggested the following time divisions:
I also told students to create a diagram of their blocking decisions and promised them ten minutes to practice and get set up the next day. The diagram is important because it helps students visualize the scene and functions as a memory aide when they practice. Additionally, to create the diagram students must read the text closely and work through comprehension issues. This requires them to discuss the scene w/ one another and come to a consensus about how to perform it.
As students worked in groups, I monitored their progress and checked their understanding. Working on a small chunk of text resulted in all groups telling me they understand their scenes, and many produced some good written plans: Student Blocking Notes.
Later I'll introduce students to prompt books, which they have begun creating with the notes they produced for this lesson.