“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”
Shakespeare’s works contain some of the best examples of writing in the English language. Engagement with Shakespeare’s plays promotes empathy, critical thinking and greater communication skills. Introducing young people to these plays for the first time, however, is a big responsibility: if the teaching fails to do justice to the content then the student risks being put off for life! Our tutors make sure this doesn’t happen by using techniques that make learning Shakespeare truly exciting!
When it comes to teaching Shakespeare, our goal is to bring the text alive and make it relevant for our students. Read on for an overview of some of the methods our tutors use when teaching Shakespeare.
Exploring Texts Through Performance
At its heart, performance is about telling a story—and what stories are more powerful than those told by William Shakespeare? Our tutors focus on providing students with tools that will help them explore their understanding of the texts through performance. We use specific activities that allow students to engage directly with the language, plot and characters in order to develop their comprehension and confidence in performing Shakespeare.
We also encourage our students to discover their own interpretations of the texts by exploring key questions such as “What do I think this character would say in this situation?” or “How would I perform this scene if I were playing this character?” This approach helps them gain insight into how different actors might interpret a particular line or scene differently, in turn giving them a deeper understanding of the material as well as helping them discover new ways of looking at it.
Creating Meaningful Connections
Our tutors also focus on creating meaningful connections between the texts and modern life so that students can more easily relate to what they read. This approach allows us to discuss wider themes such as love, loyalty, power, ambition and human nature from a contemporary perspective. By connecting these timeless concepts to everyday life experiences, we can help our students develop an appreciation for how applicable these themes still are today—and give them something tangible they can take away from each session.
Scene Work and Performance Analysis
One key technique our tutors use when introducing students to Shakespeare is scene work and performance analysis. By exploring a scene from a play as if it were being performed on stage, students can gain an appreciation of what each character wants from the other characters in the scene and why they are feeling so strongly about it. This approach helps bring out the characterizations which often escape those who only read a text version of the play. It also helps them think about how they would perform each part differently if they were playing it on stage or screen themselves.
In order for students to truly understand Shakespeare’s plays they need to be taught in context – that is, with an understanding of Elizabethan England and its attitudes towards religion, politics, family etc. Our tutors take time to explore these topics with their students so that they can appreciate why things like class distinctions were so important at the time and why certain words or phrases had a different meaning then than they do now. This contextualisation helps bring the plays alive in a way that transcends any particular adaptation or interpretation that might have been produced over recent years.
Our tutors use interactive activities such as role-play or quizzes to engage with their students on a more personal level and help them remember key points from what has been covered during their session. These activities are great for reinforcing previously discussed concepts because they involve different types of learning (visual, auditory etc) which makes them easier for all types of learners to access. Interactive activities provide an opportunity for fun discussion around themes found within each play. These techniques allow students to deepen their understanding of certain characters or plot points within each play without them feeling like they are doing “homework” outside of class time!
A Practical Approach
Here is what Lizzie, one of our English tutors, says about her approach to teaching Shakespeare.
I like to take a practical approach, with emphasis on the plays as texts to be performed.
WATCHING AND LISTENING
Shakespeare’s texts were meant to be seen and heard rather than read. I encourage students to see the play live if at all possible. There are also some excellent adaptations available on film, including modern takes on Shakespearean stories such as ‘The Lion King’ (‘Hamlet’) and ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ (‘The Taming of the Shrew’). Experiencing the story arc in its entirety can then lead to storyboarding exercises and an understanding of the structure of the play in question.
Most of Shakespeare’s plays ask huge moral and philosophical questions. What are the responsibilities of a ruler? Is killing ever justifiable? What is a human being? I like to encourage students first to interrogate where they stand on some of the questions raised by the play that they are studying, and then to compare their own views with those expressed by the play’s characters. Kae Tempest has a short poem that succinctly expresses some of the impact that Shakespeare’s language has on our everyday turns of phrase.
Understanding when, how and where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed enables a deeper appreciation of the texts. Exploring the context of Elizabethan/Jacobean England offers insight into the minds of his intended audiences; whilst an understanding the physical surroundings of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre itself illuminates some of the devices that the dramatist employs. It is also useful to know that actors would be given scripts with only their own lines and their cues, often at the very last minute. It can be fun to try this with a short scene! The Globe Theatre provides some brilliant resources.
Approaching the text with an actor’s mindset necessitates close reading and an embodied appreciation of form and dramatic technique. The meter makes sense when experienced as a memory aid and as containing stage directions. To speak Shakespeare aloud draws attention to the power of techniques such as antitheses, alliteration and internal rhyme to communicate meaning and emotion.
After any practical investigation of the text I invite the student to summarise what they’ve discovered in writing. I then introduce focussed questions, requiring a structured answer. I favour the ‘PETAL’ paragraph structure: Point (linked to the wording of the question), Evidence (from the text), Technique (employed by the writer), Analysis (how the examples advance the point made at the top), Link (back to the question).
GENRE & THEMES
Shakespeare’s plays have found their way into the collective unconscious. I find it useful to invite students to share which of Shakespeare’s plays they have heard of, and then to stimulate a discussion of how and why each play might be categorised as Comedy, Tragedy, History or ‘problem’ play. Eliciting existing knowledge can lead to further discussion of some of the thematic similarities between plays.
PLAYS IN PERFORMANCE
I like to encourage the student to consider the theatrical form by inviting them to create a pitch for their own production of the play, including design concept, location and casting. Their choices can then be compared with those made in other famous productions.
Find A Tutor To Help With Shakespeare
At London International Tutors, we provide our students with engaging lessons that will foster a lifelong appreciation for Shakespeare’s works. By focusing on exploring the text through performance and making meaningful connections between literature and modern life experiences, our tutors create lessons that are both fun and educational. With our methods, we ensure that every student leaves with a newfound appreciation for William Shakespeare’s world-renowned plays.
If you would like to book sessions with any of our tutors, contact Wendy, who will be happy to arrange this. After all…