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 10 of The Taming of the Shrew
This lesson is Day 1 of 2 in which students work with tasks for Act 3.
In this lesson students will do the following:
The actual performances of the scene will take place during the next class period on Day 2.
Since students have had some struggles with Shakespeare's language, I decided to show them a short Open University video about Shakespeare's Original Pronunciation. This video explains how learning to pronounce Shakespeare's words actually makes learning the plays easier:
After the video, I explained to students that we use Shakespeare's language but that we have modified many of his pronunciations but that understanding how pronunciation can be modified both by returning to the original pronunciation and by updating the pronunciation, we can understand the plays better.
In our discussion, however, students agreed that using Shakespeare's words but late modern pronunciations is preferable for them at this time. Thus, we agreed that the video is something to think about but that we'll use it as interesting tangential information during our study of the play.
That said, I did remind students that there are times we need to use the original pronunciation to preserve the meter and that by doing so we'll understand puns better, we'll understand character in terms of class and social structure, and we'll be ready to be life-long students of the Bard.
Having students cut a scene is an excellent close reading strategy, and it's much more effective than completing a worksheet or a set of questions. To cut a scene requires comprehension, summarizing skills, rereading, analysis, and a whole host of other cognitive skills.
For much of Act 3 I ask students to work ing groups. These tasks are delineated in the handout: Taming of the Shrew Act 3 Tasks. Some groups have the task of cutting a scene for performance. Other groups have performance tasks similar to those from Act 2.
Students chose their groups. Then we reviewed the guidelines for Cutting a Scene. In addition to the suggestions about why a director might cut a scene, I ask students to consider the following:
The remainder of the period students use for cutting their scenes and for preparing and blocking their performances:
Many students struggled with this idea, which the first attempt at cutting shows. First Cutting of a Scene
It's important that students take ownership of their choices when cutting a scene. Only through presenting the scene will they clearly see how effective their cuts are to both their understanding of the scene and the audience's understanding.
Additionally, when students work in a group to cut, each student needs a script. Each student should cut as the group discusses and works through the scene. Each student should work with a pencil in case the group chooses to make additional cuts or chooses to add in material they cut earlier.
*For additional information on teaching this lesson in a more successful way, see "Lesson Rewind": Cutting a Scene in The Taming of the Shrew."