Dig Deep into the Bard with Targeted Activities and "Shakespeare Uncovered"

As the only author explicitly mandated within the Common Core State Standards, we thought we would open up a discussion of how to dig deeply into reading literature with William Shakespeare.

CCSS Student Activity, Grades 11 and 12: The meaning of words

4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

In Shakespeare’s Othello, the character Iago's convincing rhetoric clearly reveals what a powerful—and dangerous—tool language can be, especially when used by the eloquent but unscrupulous individual. EDSITEment lesson, Shakespeare's Othello and the Power of Language, explores the basis of Iago's persuasive power by analyzing his astonishing command of rhetoric and figurative language. The diverse set of activities in this lesson includes short group performances, writing exercises, and the guided use of online dictionaries and concordances to study Shakespeare's language. EDSITEment’s literary glossary provides additional insights into literary terminology. By giving their attention to Iago's rhetorical skills, students will learn strategies to understand how he uses language to create a convincing, albeit deceptive, identity for himself.

CCSS Student Activity, Grades 11 and 12: Analysis of the source text

7. Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

EDSITEment lesson, Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Ethic in Text and Film, seeks to sensitize students to the complex nature of revenge as it is portrayed in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Students learn how this play interprets Elizabethan attitudes toward revenge, as reflected in the structure of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy, one of the most popular forums of drama of that era. Students consider the implications of honor, loyalty, and revenge in the Elizabethan culture and see how these resonate in modern times and in modern film versions of the play.

This lesson may be complemented with EDSITEment lesson, Hamlet Meets Chushingura: Traditions of the Revenge Tragedy,which parallels this study with comparisons of Hamlet and the Elizabethan revenge ethic to the Japanese Bunraku/Kabuki play Kanadehon Chushingura and the Tokugawa revenge ethic. Discussing different film interpretations of this play afford students the opportunity to observe the kinds of choices modern directors must make as they seek to move their vision from text to film. Comparing final scenes in modern film versions allow students to experience different time periods, settings, and effects and also to realize that Shakespeare is "not of an age, but for all time."

CCSS Student Activity, Grades 9 and 10: Integrating knowledge and ideas

In the Common Core, we note Shakespeare also is suggested as an example for Integration of Knowledge and Ideas for Grades 9 and 10: Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare). And Shakespeare surfaces again for Grades 9 and 10 within Texts Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, and Range of Student Reading: The Tragedy of Macbeth.

Characters whose shifting minds we feel compelled to follow through every twist and turn are a mark of Shakespeare's mature art and one of the reasons he is considered the great innovator in English drama. Giving students the tools to follow those shifts is the purpose of the EDSITEment lesson, Shakespeare's Macbeth: Fear and the Motives of Evil which takes a look at fear in the play, exploring how it becomes not just merely the result of Macbeth's choices, but a cause of his increasingly desperate and evil actions. (Note: This lesson may be paired with the complementary EDSITEment lesson, Shakespeare's Macbeth: Fear and the “Dagger of the Mind,” in which students read, discuss, and perform a wordless version of the “banquet scene” in order to learn how Shakespeare dramatizes fear.)

A New Shakespeare Series on PBS

Just in time to prepare for the new Common Core standards mentioned above: the debut of a PBS six-part series, Shakespeare Uncovered, which will be shown on three consecutive Friday evenings starting January 25!

You and your students will receive the full treatment in the NEH-funded series, as you revel in the back story of each play and the world of William Shakespeare. Tune in to explore the impact these plays, written 400 years ago, continue to have on our lives today.

Each Friday night program features two hour-long segments focusing on one or two plays by the Bard, each with a celebrity host. Shakespeare Uncovered is a series built around interviews with actors, directors, and scholars and includes clips from screen versions of the plays and live performance segments filmed at the reconstructed Globe theatre.

January 25: Ethan Hawke explores Macbeth and Joely Richardson and her mom, Vanessa Redgrave, investigate the Comedies, Twelfth Night and As You Like It.

February 1: Derek Jacobi examines Richard II with clips from a new, upcoming PBS film of the play. Jeremy Irons leads a consideration of the History plays Henry IV and Henry V—with clips from the upcoming PBS Great Performances version.

February 8: David Tennant takes on Hamlet and Trevor Nunn focuses on The Tempest with Helen Mirren and Julie Taymor among the interviewees.

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