Activity #1: Playwriting
to learn about William Shakespeare’s life and times and to experience being a playwright while trying to create Peregrine Jay’s play
I found the most mysterious element to not be the murder but what Peregrine’s play is really like.
is central to the novel. The reader is informed about the play’s casting, staging, and basic plot but never gets to hear any of its dialogue or to feel its true life. I think that students will be curious about
. It is ever present in
and always tempting the reader to find out more about William Shakespeare, the man. Who was the dark lady? What was her relationship with Shakespeare? What was his marriage to Anne Hathaway really like? Why did his family stay behind in Stratford and not join him in London where he lived and worked? What was Shakespeare’s relationship with his children? Why did Hamnet die at such an early age? How did Shakespeare’s life shape him into the brilliant playwright that he became?
None of these questions will be easy to answer. Some have no clear answers at all. Historians have been puzzled by the holes and gaps in Shakespeare’s personal history for generations. Students will enjoy tackling these issues while trying to write their own simple version of
Students must be knowledgeable about the existing facts of Shakespeare’s life. In class we will read excerpts from
An Introduction to Shakespeare
, the biography written especially for young people by Marchette Chute. Students will be given time in the school library to do research. There will also be a classroom display of related books and materials.
After having completed his basic research, each student will be asked to write a brief narrative outline for
. These will be shared aloud and discussed in class. The next step is for students to divide themselves into small groups of three or four people. These small groups will then rewrite the story outline until they are pleased with the end result. My students are used to writing alone, as well as in groups. This approach can be very stimulating in that there is a solid sharing and flow of ideas, but it may not work for every class group. Some teachers may choose to keep the writing as a solo activity.
Once the narrative story has been set, we will work on creating a plot outline. Here students will decide which scenes should make it into their play. Due to time constraints, each group might only create one or two complete scenes. These could be strung together with the work done by the other groups to give the sense of a complete play. If there was enough time the students could certainly write as many complete plays as there were groups, but in my classroom this would not be as practical.
The final scenes will be first read aloud in a semi-staged manner with the rest of the class as audience. The students will then rehearse briefly and present their dramatized scenes. If the interest is there and the students choose to do so, their version of
could be staged, polished, simply costumed, and presented for an audience of peers and/or parents. Peregrine Jay would find all this quite amusing.
Activity #2: Classroom Discussion
to give students an opportunity to ask questions about the reading material, but more importantly to give each student a chance to express his own opinion and to enter into a dialogue with his classmates.
A class discussion may seem like too simple and obvious an activity to describe in a lesson plan. My experience has taught me that too often there is no interchange taking place after students have read a piece of literature, or what is even worse the teacher assumes discussion is taking place when in actuality she is simply lecturing. Therefore, I would like to share my simple recipe for assuring student involvement in a class discussion.
There must be something of value to discuss. Gab sessions can have their own merit in helping people let off steam, but for this activity it is essential that there be a common ground. The students should have read something of merit either in class or at home. Do not let too much time pass between the reading and the discussion.
I like to start with a brief opening statement that I make in an attempt to give an overview of the material about to be discussed. I may also review any previous work that relates to the topic of discussion. I try to never speak initially for more than five minutes or so. Then I ask for students to respond or to bring up any points they feel are important. When students first start this type of discussion they might be quiet. They could be used to speaking only when spoken to or only to answer a question. Once they do become comfortable they guide the discussion along. I find I sit back, listen, comment occasionally, and learn a lot about what they have really learned. I also find that these discussions give me enlightened perspective on the literature we have read. The students are always finding a new twist or outlook on the material.
A flexible time limit should be placed on this type of discussion. If the conversation starts to lag it may be time to stop or to change topics. I use the ideas brought up in one discussion to often plan the next. I also listen carefully to what the students say and use their opinions as guidelines on what types of literature to teach. This is how I became aware of the importance of mystery and detective fiction in the classroom.
Activity #3: Monologues and Soliloquies
to expose students to the eloquence of William Shakespeare’s writing as found specifically in his dramatic speeches and to encourage students to write their own monologues.
There is no playwright more gifted than William Shakespeare in the poetic and dramatic use of the soliloquy. Through these inner speeches shared with an audience, Shakespeare enlightened us as to the motivations and reasons behind a character’s behavior. The most quoted portions of his plays are from these monologues. Some of the most passionate and inspired pieces that Shakespeare wrote can be found in
. In first studying these soliloquies and monologues students will be exposed to Shakespearean language in small, meaningful doses so that they can better understand and appreciate his work.
Students should have first read the
retellings by Charles and Mary Lamb and Leon Garfield. This will give them a basic understanding of the plot and the context in which these dramatic speeches appear.
First, there should be an awareness of the simple difference between a monologue and a soliloquy. A monologue is simply a one person dramatic speech which can be performed on stage alone or with another actor. It can be a speaking out of one’s own inner thoughts or a long, one-sided portion of a conversation. Shakespeare took the idea of the soliloquy from the Greeks and refined it to perfection. For a soliloquy an actor is alone on stage and speaking his innermost thoughts aloud. It is the classic way to share motivation with the audience.
Next, the students should be presented with a dramatic speech from
. There are many brilliant soliloquies from which to choose and eventually a class might want to work with several of them, if not all. I will begin with Lady Macbeth’s “milk of human kindness” speech at the beginning of Act 1, Scene 5. Here, she is first performing the simple task of reading her husband’s letter from the front. Macbeth is sharing with her his experience with the weird sisters and the news that their prophecy came true. He is now the Thane of Cawdor. It is in this speech that we first meet Lady Macbeth and we see clearly her greed and need for power. Her bitter ambition colors the entire scene and tips the audience off as to what is yet to come.
The students will read and then discuss this soliloquy. We will tackle the vocabulary and then attempt to discover its meaning. There will be an emphasis placed on the psychology of murder and the human motivations called on when one kills another. We will look at how monologues and soliloquies are purely expressions of inner thought and how that can affect a dramatic structure. The students will be asked to sort out Lady Macbeth’s motivations and feelings. They will be asked to write a modern monologue from Lady Macbeth’s point of view.
Finally, the students will write soliloquies based on their own life experiences. These can be shared and performed within the class.
The students will be asked to examine other speeches from
, such as Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act 2, Scene I in which he reflects on his dagger and whether or not he is capable of the crime. Macbeth’s motivations will be examined and then compared to those of his wife. I think an interesting discussion could be held on the topic of which one of the Macbeths is the more dangerous and disturbing killer.