Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

As the year winds down and we move in to summer, I know many of you will spend time building and enhancing your curriculum.  Here are 5 ideas for teaching Shakespeare that you might consider implementing next year.  The summer will give you time to seek out and read some of these books.

1. Take a page from Gary Soto’s book and have students write an original poem based on one line from a play.

2. Have students connect the play to a modern text by taking a quote and tying it to a modern film/show where the situation is similar, and then explain the similarity.

3. Ask students to imagine a modern scenario where the same situation could feasibly occur, much like Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, based on the Tempest, or Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler, based on The Taming of the Shrew.

4. Have students annotate a scene (or a portion of a scene) in terms of direction: blocking, lighting, set, costuming, inflection.

5. Ask students to rewrite a portion of a monologue/soliloquy but change or modernize the topic. The act of rewriting can be a powerful way to understand blank verse and iambic pentameter.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

Up Late with Hagseed by Margaret Atwood

Up Late with Hagseed by Margaret Atwood

I’ve really been enjoying the Hogarth series where modern writers rewrite Shakespeare Plots (I reviewed Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl earlier this year).  Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest is superb. I found myself rooting for Felix, who’s been ousted from his position as the Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival and ends up teaching Shakespeare in a prison. The title comes from one of the insults in the play. Felix has his actors make a list of all the curses in the play, and then insists they only use the ten they select as a class for any future cursing. The result is endearing–all these tough guys using Shakespearian curses.

Felix works hard at his revenge, but we can see through his mask at times: “Then he grins: the grin of a cornered chimpanzee, part anger, part threat, part dejection.” And he does question himself–as a villain he’s not particularly evil, especially since he questions himself so much: “He’s in control, isn’t he? The right words in the right order, that’s his real security.” But the people at the prison and those visiting do need to watch out for him, as he can be dangerous: “It’s the words that should concern you, he thinks at them. That’s the real danger. Words don’t show up on scanners.”

The way Felix exacts his revenge seems fitting and not terrible, in the end.  The play, of course, isn’t a tragedy the way other Shakespearean plays are. What I particularly enjoyed in this version was the way Atwood allowed for the characters to have life after the play.  The final assignment for the actors is to imagine life after the performance, and that may have been my favorite part, especially for Miranda.  The end is heartwarming and offers readers a sense of completion that doesn’t seem unreasonable. So even if you’re not a fan of The Tempest, you should pick up a copy of this story, as it allows for redemption, forgiveness, and healing for many of the characters.


Posted by Kate, PCTELA Blog Editor

Up Late with Hagseed by Margaret Atwood