Recently, I had the pleasure of studying at Cambridge for a week. I had never been to England, so I found a cheap place to stay, a dorm room at the London School of Economics which, with breakfast included, was $55 a night(!) and decided to come early and explore London for a week. When I woke up on exploration day one, I ventured outside and Google Maps revealed that I was just paces from the rebuilt Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I almost jumped up and down.
I made it through a rural public school back when Shakespeare was still taught and remember falling for Macbeth and Hamlet. When Emily and I landed in Lancaster, PA, we found a thriving theater scene and one small troupe that often did one of Shakespeare’s plays annually along with one Greek play and some Moliere.
I love Shakespeare, but I realized that I liked watching his plays much more than reading them. Go figure! They are made to watch. Of course, you cannot do a full-scale production of every play you read in Omnibus, but here are some ways to bring a bit of excitement into your reading of the Bard.
Way 1: Reading Sections Aloud
This is a great way to start. Pick an important section, assign a person to each role, and read together. Encourage expressive reading. Pause the reading to explain deeper and more meaningful parts of the text.
This can be a great way for a class to experience the Bard. The students can experience Shakespeare verbally and you, as their teacher, can help them see the depth of the text and they also can experience Shakespeare’s deeper meaning when you pause their reading and explain the reading to them.
During Covid, I have been blessed by this method as I have been teaching Hamlet. The question that teachers should be asking students during these readings is, “What does this mean?” It is great to ask students to explain the text that they are reading and hearing.
Way 2: Acting It Out
This is the ultimate way to experience Shakespeare. It is meant to be acted out and experienced, so have your students act it out. You need extra space to do this so you might have to move desks and tables around in your classroom.
To do this well, assign roles to students in each scene. Pause at the end of each scene and ask actors the question of why they did what they did. This option is a little more improvisational and you will end up with both interesting and humorous interactions. Enjoy these, but also use these to explore Shakespeare.
Way 3: Watching a Recording
There are so many great video recordings of Shakespeare’s plays. Explore these and share them with your students. Remember, Shakespeare is meant to be watched more than it is to be read. Don’t ignore older recordings. They are often the best. However, don’t miss some of the modern gems. Make sure that you watch more recent versions of Shakespeare before watching it with students to make sure it is appropriate.
Reading Shakespeare is an education in and of itself. He is the greatest English speaking dramatist and arguably the greatest writer of English. His plays challenge us to think through so many crucial areas of life and worldview. I hope that these three techniques can help your students get even more out of the Bard and foster in them a lifelong love of his works.
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