Teaching Shakespeare in High School

Discussion in 'Education and Academia' started by StiltonFC, Apr 18, 2011.

  1. StiltonFC

    StiltonFC He said to only look up -- Guster

    Mar 18, 2007
    SoCal
    Club:
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    So, I've been a substitute teacher for 5 years and one of my assignments was 6 weeks where I had 2 sections of AP Composition.

    (as an aside, one of my students writes better as an 11th grader than I did in college )

    The school was so desperate for a long-term sub, I got to pick my curriculum, to an extent, so I opted for Othello ( along with Death of a Salesman, which they had already started ). The class didn't enjoy it.

    Since then I have been in many classes where one of The Bard's plays was the subject matter ( Caesar or R & J ), and my experience is that most of the teachers allowed the kids to read the No Fear version -- by itself.

    I've stupidly tried to convince students that Shakespeare is the best craftsman that English Lit has ever seen, but they think I'm a lunatic.

    I'm curious as to anyone else's experience in this area.
     
  2. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I'd guess that if you're teaching an untracked class at an average high school, Shakespeare will be a stretch. A honors class at a strong high school, well that would be different. I can't imagine the latter needing to be spoon fed.
     
  3. Uppa 90

    Uppa 90 Member

    Jan 16, 2004
    K.C. MO
    Club:
    Kansas City Wizards
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I teach Macbeth to regular seniors for English IV every year...

    We use a side-by-side translation for it... We stick to the modern translation, but jump back to the classic for the important passages...
     
  4. Bonnie Lass

    Bonnie Lass Super Moderator
    Staff Member

    Oct 20, 2000
    Up top
    Club:
    Olympique Lyonnais
    Nat'l Team:
    Norway
    From a student's perspective:

    Having Shakespeare forced down my throat in high school, starting with Romeo & Juliet in 9th grade advanced English, is pretty much the reason I have no desire to ever crack open anything he's done since.

    I don't watch movies, I don't read or watch the plays, I even cringe when his name gets mentioned. I'm not an idiot. I was almost always in AP or advanced English in high school and middle school. I was the geek who read several classics outside of class just because I loved to read and was curious about them.

    Really and truly, I think I would have a much greater appreciation for him and his works had the school waited until my senior year -- or even college -- to foist him on me. But that's just me. (And this is from 15 years ago. Things may have changed since then.)
     
  5. StiltonFC

    StiltonFC He said to only look up -- Guster

    Mar 18, 2007
    SoCal
    Club:
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I can't disagree. I didn't get exposed to Shakespeare until my junior year(HS). We read The Scottish Play and I didn't have another bout with The Bard until my junior year in college, when I took the upper division Shakespeare course. We read (at least) Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, and one of the comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, I think, and Henry IV. The professor told us everyone in the world had already read R & J, so why bother.

    I loved Macbeth. But I had a fantastic teacher who explained all kinds of things that I wouldn't have been able to figure out on my own, probably. I was a substitute in a class that was reading Caesar, and we watched the part of the play where this is acted

    Brando plays Antony. His reading of the text is so charged with smoldering anger that you can hear his clenched teeth grinding, almost.

    It is this kind of writing that gets me every time. It's difficult to be sure, and I'm sorry if I made you cringe, but it's good stuff, if you are willing to labor through it.
     
  6. Quango

    Quango BigSoccer Supporter

    Jul 25, 2003
    Colorado
    Club:
    Colorado Rapids
    As a high-school student, I think we read R&J sophmore year and Hamlet senior year. I don't remember either of them fondly. I took Shakespeare I (first half of career) in college which was much more enjoyable. I'd say a comedy would be a better place to start with highschoolers. Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, Much Ado are all fun and bawdy enough to engage them.

    One of the best experiences I had with Shakespeare was my Dad (a former hs English teacher) showing me two videos of Comedy of Errors. The first was a more formal adaptation with Roger Daltry. The second was a version put on by the Flying Karamozov Brothers (juggling troup). Both were very enjoyable, but I learned a lot about how flexible Shakespeare could be depending on dramatic interpretation.

    Q
     
  7. DoctorJones24

    DoctorJones24 Member

    Aug 26, 1999
    OH
    My sense is that one's first exposure to Shakespeare, especially if early in high school, should be through a performance. He wasn't writing novels, after all.

    There's plenty of fun accessible film versions (Lurhman's R&J, Brannagh's Much Ado, etc.) and plenty of professional traveling productions and university shows. Watch a movie and/or schedule a field trip. Prep the students by maybe reading some sections ahead of time, studying key passages afterwards, etc.
     
  8. bungadiri

    bungadiri Super Moderator
    Staff Member

    Jan 25, 2002
    Acnestia
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    My sons loved Brannagh's Much Ado about Nothing. Michael Keaton's performance comes at just the right point to shore up a juvenile boy's flagging interest.
     
  9. StiltonFC

    StiltonFC He said to only look up -- Guster

    Mar 18, 2007
    SoCal
    Club:
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    this makes sense, except that the language makes for difficulty in understanding the speeches as they are said. i watched R&J, from the balcony scene till Romeo slays Tybalt, and i have to say that there were passages i could only guess at.

    so, maybe read and then watch or vice versa...
     
  10. DoctorJones24

    DoctorJones24 Member

    Aug 26, 1999
    OH
    True, but that's exactly where the performance comes in. Honestly, I think R&J is just a bad and fairly dull choice in general--way overdone in American high schools.

    But take a kid to a good production of one of the comedies (Twelfth Night would be a great choice) and the troupes always do a good job of bringing out physical comedy along with the text. People who don't even "get" the language can still laugh along with the show. All that cross dressing, for instance, just doesn't come off as well on the page, but it's hysterical when done well on stage.

    Would make for a much more promising future attitude towards Shakes, I think.
     
  11. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Perhaps my most memorable class experience in high school was reading Julius Ceasar as a soph. So hmmm different viewpoints here.

    I do think text + performance is the way to go, not text only. Shakespeare made many decisions based on stage considerations. Talk about those, get the kids to focus on the drama and spectacle, having them thinking like they are directing a film. They should be able to relate to that.
     
  12. StiltonFC

    StiltonFC He said to only look up -- Guster

    Mar 18, 2007
    SoCal
    Club:
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    just out of curiosity, where did you attend HS?
     
  13. DoctorJones24

    DoctorJones24 Member

    Aug 26, 1999
    OH
    Hm, I'm not sure where we differ in viewpoints, unless you're extrapolating from your personal enjoyment to claim that most/all 10th graders can enjoy Shakespeare. If that's your claim, then yeah, we differ. Most can't. Most won't. Some certainly will.

    Naturally, some "honors" type classes in rich suburbs will have higher percentages of kids capable of it. Though that percentage is smaller than it was even 5 years ago, much less 10 or 20. Reading long complex stuff is getting harder and harder every year.
     
  14. Jacen McCullough

    Nov 23, 1998
    Maryland
    I've taught Shakespeare to 10th grade reading students (10th graders on a 4th/5th grade reading level). They understood and enjoyed it. It isn't Shakespeare that should be changed to reflect the ability of your students--it's the way Shakespeare is taught that should be changed. Shakespeare, particularly if you're familiar with his own origins and the history of popular Renaissance drama, should never be reserved for the elite alone.
     
  15. DoctorJones24

    DoctorJones24 Member

    Aug 26, 1999
    OH
    Jacen, I think you saw my last post and missed the context of the full conversation. (The revised bolded part above is what I meant to say in responding to JohnR's post) My point was just that assigning full texts as reading assignments isn't the way to attract or reach 10th graders, and that's where Stilton seemed to be running into trouble with Othello--I'm assuming that's not what you do with your 4th grade readers! Some combination of acting out fun passages, watching film clips, attending productions would of course work great.

    I'm not a fan of dumbed down versions, personally, as I was forced to teach some novels that way in an ESL setting one year, and found it pretty pointless. Maybe a side-by-side translation could be useful.
     
  16. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    A crappy high school in the Bay Area. I happened to have been assigned a teacher who was unusually strict and demanding by the school's standards, so he put JC on the syllabus. Which was quite a change from the usual fare. He wasn't a particularly popular teacher.
     
  17. StiltonFC

    StiltonFC He said to only look up -- Guster

    Mar 18, 2007
    SoCal
    Club:
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    the classes to which i assigned full-text readings were 11th grade AP Comp sections, but open-access, so not all the kids are AP ability. they did not have any side-by-side translations, unless they found them on their own. the school had about 100 copies of Othello, which was more than enough for my two classes.

    my guess is that no more than 2/3rds actually read the play, based on discussion and test scores. they did poorly on a multiple choice objective test, which prompted me to grade on a curve, which i don't like doing.
     

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