In 2008 I spent a month at The Folger Shakespeare Library's Teaching Shakespeare Institute., an NEH funded summer program for teachers. I also studied with the Folger a week in 2007 at the University of Tulsa. Combined, these two programs have influenced my teaching of Shakespeare's plays, as well as my approach to many other texts. Simply, Shakespeare wrote his plays for performance, so using performance techniques is the way to teach the plays.
Many of the lessons in this unit originate in the Shakespeare Set Free book that includes units on Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Additionally, some originate from digital resources the Folger offers. This screencast will help introduce teachers to the Folger education resources on the Folger website.
Throughout the unit I identify the lessons that have their origins at The Folger and provide links to all available Folger resources. The Folger has a huge archive of lesson plans and a growing digital library that includes videos, podcasts, images, etc. These are an invaluable resource to me, and i encourage other teachers to use the Folger resources, both for teaching Shakespeare and for adaptation to other texts.
It is no understatement to say that whatever I do right as a teacher of Shakespeare I owe to my wonderful Folger Shakespeare Library family.
By the end of The Tragedy of Macbeth, Macbeth is filled with regret. If he were to encapsulate his life in one sentence, what would that sentence say?
To set a reflective tone for our study of Macbeth, I introduced students to Daniel Pink's One Sentence Project and asked them to think about their lives and the one sentence that they want written at the end of their lives:
Some students struggled with the idea that they were imagining the end of their lives and looking back from this vantage point. That took some clarification. Most were hesitant about sharing their sentences with the whole class.
However, we had two visitors during the lesson, one a retired patron hired to track at risk students. The kids know him well as he has also subbed in our class and in others. He shared his sentence: "He did his best to live life helping others live their lives to the fullest." He talked about being older and what it means to look back on one's life.
Next, I introduced students to Macbeth's final soliloquy in Act V, but I did not tell them the speech is Macbeth's. Instead, I told the students that the words are among the most famous penned by William Shakespeare.
I read the lines and read them slowly to model reading thoughts rather than lines and to model a slow, deliberate reading rather than a rushed one.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Next, I asked the class what they notice about the lines. Additionally, I asked students if they have questions about the lines. Whenever a student asked a question, I repeated it and directed it to the class so that they had an opportunity to respond to one another's questions, which gave them an opportunity to work through the lines rather than have me tell them what they mean.
Some of the questions students asked included:
What is the candle?
What's the shadow?
Who is the idiot?
As students commented on the lines, I told them that Shakespeare uses many metaphors and that he's the guy who said, "All the world's a stage."
As the students identified the metaphors, I put them on the board. I like to write metaphors as comparisons rather than just write the lines. This helps students see the comparisons, which in turn reinforces their understanding.
life is compared to a "brief candle"
life is compared to a "walking shadow"
life is compared to "a tale told by an idiot"
We also talked about the meaning of the word brief. Students see that it suggests how brief life is.
Additionally, the repetition of tomorrow evoked comments about death being something in the future rather than in the past.
I asked students to compose a sentence for the soliloquy. "If the soliloquy had to be stated in one sentence, what would that sentence say?"
Most came up with something like "life is short." I said that I think this only gets to part of the meaning of the speech. This seemed to confuse some students. They'll need more time to see the totality of meaning in the speech.
However, students did get to the most important question: "How did the speaker get to the point that he sees his life this way?" By "this way" the student means "without meaning" and "with such regret."
"That's the question we need to answer as we work with the play," I told the class. "This is Macbeth's final speech, so how did he get to the point that he sees his life as a story 'signifying nothing'?"
Next, I put a definition of soliloquy on the board:
Soliloquy: a speech delivered by a character who is alone on the stage. No other character can hear the speech, but the audience can. The speech reveals a character's inner thoughts and feelings.
Next, I told students that they would be working in groups to create a performance of the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy. I told the class that they can use props, costuming, etc.Student Performance Props I said they could not change any lines but that they could repeat and echo lines if they wanted. I encouraged them to use music, including from their phones and other devices, and their instruments from band. I also reminded students that they need to think about the lines as having meaning rather than focusing on the lines as independent units to be read separate from one another.
Then I gave the class time to work. Student with His Guitar practicing for his group's performance.
With very little time to prepare, the students did an excellent job.
One group performed accompanied by guitar, another by the clarinet. Some groups created props. One group put the first line at the end to suggest that tomorrow is in the future. Still others used echoing effects. Student Performance of Macbeth's Soliloquy: One is the Shadow, showing the line referencing life as a shadow that creeps. Students with Candles Representing Props show students using props to suggest life as candles. They made these with paper available in the classroom.
When the students finished the performances, I asked them to compose a sentence for the soliloquy if they had not yet done so, and I checked their notes and annotations as a formative assessment to guide the direction of the next class.
Most still needed to think about the sentence for the soliloquy, so it can be a starting point in the next class. Student Notes and the Sentence for the Soliloquy. Note that the soliloquy sentence is a line from the speech, which suggests the student needs additional scaffolding.