I have more ideas than I have opportunities to try them out, so if you ever see something here you want to try with your own kids, you go right ahead. Then report back how it went.
Tomorrow I have to entertain a bunch of 7yr olds on the subject of Shakespeare. I've already got plenty of ideas (see my "scenes from a hat" post earlier today). But here's another one:
1) Pick a tragedy. We'll assume Hamlet.
2) Every student is given a name tag identifying them as a character from the play.
3) Everybody stands up.
4) Teacher walks through the play, "character introduction by character introduction," so the students know who they are supposed to be. Example: One student has the nametag "King Hamlet." Teacher responds, "You are the previous king of Denmark. When the play starts, you're already dead. Sit down."
5) As each character dies, they are told the method of their demise ("You're hiding behind the curtains and Hamlet stabs you.") It's important to go back and inform the ghost of old king Hamlet how he died, so he doesn't feel ripped off that he died so early :).
6) Any student left standing has survived!
I figure it wins on two levels. Most of the kids get to die, and it's always cool to die a gruesome death when you're seven. Those that don't get a gruesome death at least get to come away with the "victory" that they survived the play.
If I have time I'm going to write up those cards and bring them with me. Not sure yet if we'll try to play that or the scenes from a hat game. Problem with this game is that there's like 22 students in the class and I don't have a play that has that many characters, so I'd have to do it twice (Hamlet and Macbeth?) and then it starts to get too long and kids argue about who went twice and blah blah blah.
P.S. - Did I write up this game once? I'm getting a weird dejavu over it, but I can't find evidence that I wrote it up previously. I could swear we talked about ..... I know what it was! Shakespeare Death Bingo! Ok, now I feel better that I'm not repeating myself. Similar concept, different execution.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
I have more ideas than I have opportunities to try them out, so if you ever see something here you want to try with your own kids, you go right ahead. Then report back how it went.
I was introduced this morning to a new Shakespeare Day Project call 450 Minute Shakespeare. Here's the gimmick: it's Shakespeare's 450th birthday. It also works out quite nicely that 450minutes is about a full "work day" worth of time (7 1/2 hours). So this group is looking for people to fill up 450 minutes worth of Shakespeare performance, one minute or more at a time, so that they can present it throughout the day on April 23.
This is a fundraising event setup by a group in Taunton, Somerset who are trying to reopen their local theatre and show that Stratford's not the only place in England that appreciates their Shakespeare. You contribute by "buying" your minute (or minutes), then you're welcome to record whatever performance you choose (many examples on their site ranging from "perform a sonnet" to "bake Shakespeare-shaped cookies and give them to your neighbor"). I love that they encourage variety. Seven hours of people reciting Sonnet 18 and the opening to Richard III would get a little tiresome. Groups of all sizes are more than welcome, and they seem quite flexible in determining how much they expect you to pay to take part. It's quite obvious that they're doing it to raise money, not make a profit. There's a big difference.
More details at the link. The site is not fully functional yet but the FAQs are pretty detailed.
What will you do with your Shakespeare minute?
at 10:16 AM
There's a scene in Dead Poet's Society (cover your ears bardfilm) where Robin Williams gives each student a card with a snippet of poetry on it while they're standing in a line outside. They're supposed to shout the line, then kick a soccer ball.
Later this week I'm going to do some Shakespeare with seven year olds, and I was thinking about doing some material with them. But since I won't have nearly the time to explain significant scenes, I thought I could do more "lines from a hat" where any student who's willing would draw a famous quote and have to stand up and deliver it to the class.
As such, I need variety. I'm looking for lines that are short and simple enough that a 7yr old could read it, but have also got a little something behind them so they'll sound cool when projected across the room. You know, the kind of stuff that gives us all spine tingles when we hear it.
If I get enough material I'll bring along the longer version of each quote (for context) and depending on how much they get into it we can do longer passages. So I'm focusing at first on something short and punchy that even the most shy student could still recite.
So far on my list I've got:
"O for a muse of fire that would ascend the greatest heaven of invention!"
"Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene."
"When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning or in rain?"
"If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended, that you have but slumbered here."
"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"
"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio."
I'm avoiding the easy "To be or not to be" both because it's too cliche, but also because they won't have the capacity to understand the deeper meaning behind it.
What else have you got for me? We may not even get to do this project, but I feel like I missed an opportunity recently with my fourth graders and I want to have some sort of performance/recitation project in my back pocket (literally!) in case I can swing the crowd that way.
at 8:02 AM
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
I hope you're all enjoying ShakeShare, our mobile app that combines a database of Shakespeare quotes with all the original material from here on the blog (think #hashtag games and @Bardfilm's famous lists), rendering them on top of a wide variety of background images (or your own photos!), suitable for sharing with your friends. The mission here has always been, "Proving that Shakespeare makes life better," and the app is just one more tool for making that happen. Make an image that makes you happy, and share it with somebody.
I've recently compiled my statistics about how people have been using the app, and I'm happy to present the top 5 most shared quotes of all. Just please, nobody tell bardfilm that none of his jokes made the list, he'll be devastated. ;)
|#5) "To you I give myself, for I am yours." How romantic! This one plays a big role in my book as well.|
|#4) "Strong reasons make strong actions." I'm aware that I've put a King John quote on an image of Lady Macbeth, but I think it still works. They certainly thought their strong reasons justified their strong actions!|
|#3) "Fight till the last gasp." People sure seem to like their motivational Shakespeare!|
|#2) "Be great in act, as you have been in thought." Funny that two of the most shareable quotes come from a play most people have never seen.|
And the most shareable Shakespeare quote is...
|#1) "How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world." Ok, tell the truth, how many people think "Willy Wonka" when they hear this quote?|
at 9:55 AM
Monday, February 24, 2014
So I've been poking around Henslowe's diary because I think my kids would find it cool that part of their inventory included an invisibility cloak ("a robe for to goo invisibell"). Along the way I spotted this:
Which, if I translate it correctly, says that Henslowe lent money to Thomas Dowton (on May 2) to buy a robe to play "the lyfe of arthure." As in King Arthur?
We had a discussion once upon a time about why Shakespeare never wrote about King Arthur, and who else might have been writing about that legend at the time. I don't see this play (or playwright?) mentioned.
Just thought it curious. This excerpt has even more detail about that particular play:
I just noticed that right before the "lyfe of arthure" payment there is a full payment to Mr. Hathaway for the "booke of Kyng Arthore". Neat stuff!
at 10:39 AM
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Watching bits and pieces of Olivier's Hamlet this afternoon, just like I said I was going to do. I happened upon the "Get thee to a nunnery" scene. As I write this I hear "To be or not to be" in the background so I'm forced to assume that Olivier flipped these scenes?
Anyway, back to Ophelia. This is quite possibly my favorite scene of the play, at least as far as dissecting Hamlet's madness. I once collected every video interpretation of this scene I could find, to see how differently it has been played. (Unfortunately some of the links in that post have been removed, just so you know.)
What is Hamlet's relationship to Ophelia at this moment? Is he thinking that she's turned on him as well? That she's just a pawn being manipulated by her father? Is he putting on a show for the men behind the curtain, or does he mean what he's saying? How far do his feelings for his mother at this moment extend toward all women ("Frailty thy name is woman?") and thus toward Ophelia?
My title comes from the last line of the scene, as Olivier delivers it. Ophelia is on the floor (where he's thrown her), weeping inconsolably. He leans over, kisses her hair, and says "To a nunnery, go," and exits. It almost sounds like, "The world is full of horrible horrible people doing horrible things, and you above all others I'd want to protect from that." That's most certainly not said for the benefit of Claudius and Polonius, and it doesn't sound like it's coming from someone "who loved her not."
at 12:50 PM
Saturday, February 22, 2014
I was thinking today about how often people accidentally lump Mercutio in with the Montagues, since he's a friend of Romeo and doesn't hold much love for Tybalt. That's of course not true, otherwise his "A plague on both your houses!" would make no sense.
Casual audiences forget that Mercutio is actually a kinsman to the Prince himself. It's pretty easy to forget, because ... tell me again how it plays into the story?
I was trying to figure this out. Mercutio needs to be neither Montague nor Capulet, that's clear. But Shakespeare could have just given him no affiliation. He doesn't have to be related to the Prince, does he?
What about Romeo's banishment? The Prince walks in to the bloodbath that was Tybalt/Mercutio/Romeo. He's told that his kinsmen Mercutio is dead, murdered by Tybalt. Tybalt, likewise, is murdered by Romeo. Romeo's gone.
The Prince, despite having promised execution for anybody that disturbs the streets again, decides on banishment for Romeo. How much do we think this decision has to do with the fact that it's Mercutio we're talking about? If Tybalt had murdered, say, Benvolio...then what? Does the Prince still call for banishment, or Romeo's head?
This is the only place I can think of where the relationship between Mercutio and the Prince might have played into the story. Is there another one?
at 11:30 AM
Monday, February 17, 2014
I don't know why this article exists - it has neither header nor footer telling me, and the headline is merely "Shakespeare" - but the author provides a bullet list of nothing but a bunch of anecdotes about actors performing Shakespeare.
- While working with Sir Donald Wolfit, Eric Porter ran into a problem at a school matinee performance of "Macbeth." Wolfit disliked schoolchildren's giggling during a performance, so he told the schoolchildren before the play started that there was absolutely no reason to laugh during "Macbeth." However, Porter was playing the porter, who is a humorous character, and he said afterwards, "I had to stand on my head, practically, before I could raise a giggle!"
- While performing Shakespeare in the open air in Africa during the late 1960s, actress Judi Dench received a scare one night. She looked at the audience, saw the silhouette of a figure with horns, and thought, "The Devil's here!" The horned figure turned out to be a goat that had wandered into the audience.
- Fred Astaire was not a reader. He once asked his son-in-law about the story of "Romeo and Juliet." His son-in-law explained that it was like "West Side Story."
at 12:01 PM
I had no idea about this one. The CW Network has a new series "Star-Crossed" which looks to be a sci-fi spin on Shakespeare?
At 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17, The CW takes a new swing at the "Romeo and Juliet" idea with the sci-fi drama "Star-Crossed." Aimee Teegarden ("Friday Night Lights") and Matt Lanter ("90210") star as Emery and Roman, a human teen and an alien teen who share a childhood bond ... and perhaps more. When Emery was 6, an alien spaceship crash-landed in her small town. Not willing to assume that visitors from another world who suddenly show up are there to cure cancer and promote world peace, the indigenous human population battles the aliens, called Atrians.It sounds, from the rest of the article, like only the lightest of connections. But, still. Once upon a time this blog used to be about pointing to all kinds of different modern culture Shakespeare references, and if they're trying to get an R&J vibe for their new show, that certainly counts.
at 11:54 AM
What caught my attention enough to post this was the article's mention that she quotes The Tempest in her acceptance speech:
And all those incredibly carnival of characters that march into battle on any film - I thank you all, it has been an amazing journey up to now. I'm going to finish with the words of a great writer.
'Our revels now are ended. These our actors. As I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air; And, like the baseless fabric of this vision. The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself.
'Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve; And, like this insubstantial pageant faded. Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.'Something is missing from this article, though, which goes on to talk about past BAFTA winners, and what Dame Helen was wearing. There's not even one mention of the fact that she portrayed Prospero and delivered that speech on film even more recently than she portrayed the Queen!
at 10:04 AM
Saturday, February 15, 2014
They've still got openings for extras in the upcoming film Bill, described by writer Laurence Rickard as "a tale of murderous kings" and "a plot to blow up Queen Elizabeth", that explores how Shakespeare went from unknown lute player to famous playwright. “The joy of the lost years is we can tell a fun story without trampling on the facts. It gives us licence to take William Shakespeare on a truly ridiculous caper, yet end with him becoming the man the world knows.”
I wonder if I'll ever see this one come up again or it'll just sort of disappear into obscurity.
at 10:55 PM
Show of hands, who recognizes the magician duo Penn & Teller?
Ok, who knew that Teller is a Shakespeare scholar who has already directed Macbeth?
I just found out that he's doing The Tempest this summer. I wonder if it will be filmed like the Macbeth was? I'll have to keep an eye on the calendar and see if I can't get to this one.
The fascinating thing about Teller's stage productions, if you hadn't guessed, is that they include actual magic into the production. Which would explain why he started with Macbeth, of course, and why he's tackling The Tempest next.
What other Shakespeare play should be on his hit list? Something with more ghosts? Or maybe something with fairies? He obviously likes to work with the dark stuff (the article quotes him as going for a "dark kind of sideshow" vibe with his conjoined twin Caliban). Has anybody done a dark Midsummer?
at 10:41 PM
Sir Laurence Olivier's 1948 Hamlet on February 22, 2014 at 10:30pm (eastern). When I see stuff like this I almost always record it if for no other reason than to fast forward around and appreciate whatever scenes I happen to be interested in at the moment. I'll certainly show my kids the famous Yorick scene.
at 2:10 PM
After teaching my fourth graders the other day, my daughter kept asking me these mysteriously Shakespearean questions. "Daddy? Is Merchant of Venice a Shakespeare play?"
"It's pronounced Henry the Sixth, but yes, that's one too. That was actually one of his first..."
"Ok, gotta go!" and off she'd run.
Thanks everybody! I'll be back soon!
at 12:26 PM
Last week when I taught the fourth graders, I wanted to bring some handouts. I'd been playing aroun with the idea of a "How to Draw Shakespeare" thing. Keep it simple, something that with two seconds you could sketch anytime you had a pencil and a couple of square inches of clean paper. Here's what I came up with!
I have no idea why he came out so slanted, but I did it in a hurry and I was trying to make the six of them relatively equal without messing up and having to start all over. Then it wouldn't scan properly so I kept having to go over the lines. That's what we in the business call version 1.0.
at 11:54 AM
Thursday, February 13, 2014
I probably knew this once, but while googling for "Valentine" references in Shakespeare's work I re-discovered that Mercutio has a brother named Valentine:
Stay, fellow; I can read.
'Signior Martino and his wife and daughters;
County Anselme and his beauteous sisters; the lady
widow of Vitravio; Signior Placentio and his lovely
nieces; Mercutio and his brother Valentine; mine
uncle Capulet, his wife and daughters; my fair niece
Rosaline; Livia; Signior Valentio and his cousin
Tybalt, Lucio and the lively Helena.' A fair
assembly: whither should they come?
Now, clearly, I'm a bit stuck because I've been slamming the new Rosaline movie as having nothing to do with Shakespeare. If anything, we're at least given a bit of character for Rosaline by Shakespeare - Valentine gets nothing but a name on an invitation! So anything you say about Mercutio's brother, or his relationships, is entirely 100% not Shakespeare.
Doesn't mean I wouldn't want to go see it, though ;). Maybe it's a guy thing? The whole young adult high school romance vibe that Rosaline gives off doesn't do it for me, but having grown up with just a single older brother myself, I think I'd like to see a "behind the scenes" story of Mercutio and his brother, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
I wonder if you can buy the script?
at 8:15 PM
Here's a story that's equal parts "Shakespeare" and "Geek". An MIT student has written a program that uses nothing but the database of Shakespeare's word choices, and from that created what I'll call a "sonnet helper". It doesn't write the sonnet for the student, but it does say "Based on what you've got so far, maybe this? Or this?" The student/author is still composing the sonnet, and the computer is merely guiding the word choices. Very interesting stuff.
When I in dreams behold thy fairest shade
whose shade in dreams doth wake the sleeping morn,
the daytime shadow of my love betrayed
lends hideous night to dreaming's faded form.
We don't get the whole thing, only snippets. I suppose it's not bad. What's painful is the idea that poetry could be automatically generated (they actually use the phrased "banged out by the computer") and that then it would be a matter of just crowdsourcing public opinion to determine what constitutes a good poem. Talk about trivializing it! That's like making a haiku generator and just counting syllables. There's a bit more to it than that.
at 7:42 PM
Holy breaking news, Batman! Obviously "new" and "found" are relative terms in the world of academia, but it looks like we're supposed to add Worlitz and Boaden to our list of likenesses now?
Images in the link. The Worlitz looks very much like Cobbe. The Boaden is a new one to me, a full length sitting portrait of a very different looking Shakespeare.
I'd write more but I'm busy reading! Stay tuned for updates!
at 3:58 PM
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
This week I continued the tradition of volunteering in my childrens' classrooms to teach whatever Shakespeare unit was welcome. In the past I've done sonnets, we've acted Midsummer, I pretty much make up a new lesson every time.
This year, for the 9yr olds (fourth grade), they were in the middle of their own 'book talk' week where each student read a biography and then did a presentation. So I was asked to do a Shakespeare book talk. Happily!
Brought all my props - my pop-up Globe Theatre , my First Folio , a whole bunch of books geared toward kids. Brought my new Shakespeare finger puppet , my t-shirt with a big Shakespeare picture on it. Printed out a "Shakespeare mask" that I could wear, generated a puzzle for them to do (I always bring a puzzle), and created my own "How To Draw Shakespeare" worksheet as a handout.
In keeping with the book talk theme, I planned to talk about Bill Bryson's The World As Stage . I made up notecards in a timeline style, starting with 1564 and going through to 1623. Not that I particularly need them, but they made a nice prop and kept some structure on the thing.
Then realized that I'd forgotten my note cards. Which gave me a great opening, because I actually said to the kids, "I wrote all my notes down on a stack of cards just like I was supposed to, and I totally left them at home. Anybody else ever forget their homework?" Bunch of hands go up. Nice.
So I proceed to wing it for about 15-20 minutes. At every opportunity I hype the unknowns about Shakespeare's life, because I think that will be the most interesting to them. How we don't know the day he was born. How we could debate what he looked like. His "lost years". I told these elementary school children that Shakespeare would have only gone to elementary school - but that he spent about 12 hours a day in school, 6 days a week. THAT got their attention.
I asked them what might have happened in 1593 to close the theatres. "War?" one asked. "Taxes?" asked another. There was a third that I can't remember, I think he said something about unemployment. So we talked for a little while about the plague, and Shakespeare switching over to poetry for a little while to keep paying the bills.
I told them the story about losing the lease on The Theatre, and having to move the whole building across the river. When I tell that story I always make it sound like they did it in a single night, so the next morning the evil landlord came to see his property and Shakespeare and his gang were waving at them from across the river. Which led to my big reveal where I show them my pop up Globe theatre. Always a hit.
We eventually got to Shakespeare's death, and to the publishing of the Folio. This gave me the opportunity to talk about being in the room with Folio #1, one of the most valuable books in the world. I also remembered from past experience to open up the Folio and walk around the room with it so they could see the actual text. "Do you guys have spelling tests?" I asked. All hands go up. "Guess what?" I say. "Shakespeare didn't. They didn't have spelling rules back then. Shakespeare could spell words however he wanted." The children find this awesome. What's really interesting to me is that I've opened to a page that says "Scena Secunda" and this is what they all point out. I tell them that it's Latin, reminding them that Shakespeare would have learned Latin in school, and that it means "Scene 2."
Eventually we switched over to questions, and that's where it got amazing. Honestly, I thought I'd bored them. Turns out they were hanging on every word.
When did Shakespeare die, in the day or the night? How did he die? Couldn't we dig up his bones and do that recreation thing to see what he looked like, like they did with King Tut? (Bardfilm points out to me that I totally should have brought up the curse on his bones, and I'm kicking myself that I forgot!) But I did tell them all about the recent Richard III discovery.
The teacher asked me my favorite play, I said The Tempest, which caused me to give a brief description of Tragedy / Comedy / Romance. Apparently the tragic concept was new to the kids. "Wait, the *good guy dies*???" "What about the bad guy, does he die too???" "Ok, so, wait, was Romeo and Juliet one of those tragedy plays?" "Juliet *dies* in the original?!" I even said at that point, "Spoiler alert! But, yes, that's kind of the point about the tragedy plays, is that before you start reading you know the good guys are going to end up dead."
I was asked how they'd do beheadings on stage back then. We talked about special effects, and animal blood, and Julius Caesar. I felt bad, sometimes my sense of humor gets the better of me, one of the kids asked what was the name of the play about Julius Caesar. I told him, "That's a tricky one to remember, the one where Julius Caesar gets stabbed is called Julius Caesar." After seeing the expression on his face I realized that he came away thinking I'd just called his question stupid. Not my intent!
But my absolute favorite question? The one that reminded me why this is all worth it?
"Can you still see Shakespeare's plays today?"
.....and there it is. It's so easy when surrounded by educated adults to fall into assuming what everybody else assumes and nobody ever speaks up and says. We know that we can do see Shakespeare. Most of the adults that know that also know that they'd never do such a thing, but that's a different story. Shakespeare's just kind of there for everybody at this point in our lives.
I just walked into a room full of 9yr old children who had no preconceived notions about our beloved playwright. Heck, many of them may not have ever heard of him. And by the time I was done there was at least one little girl who wanted to know if she still could experience the works of this guy that lived 400 years ago. I informed her that oh so very much she could, and how every year we go see Shakespeare under the stars in Boston Common, and how there are 4 Shakespeare movies coming out this year alone, and how a few months ago the local high school performed Hamlet.
Eventually the teacher had to kick me out because it was their library time. While I packed up and they lined up, one student asked me, "Was Sherlock Holmes a Shakespeare story?" I said that no, he came a few hundred years later. "Oh," said the student, "Because he's the good guy but he dies in the end after he gets the bad guy, so I thought it was one of those tragedies. But then he comes back." I'm not really sure which Sherlock Holmes story he's referring to, but the connection was fascinating.
Now you want to hear the other other best part? I heard from multiple sources (my daughter, and then the librarian herself) that all my new students went to their library time and said, "Do you have any books on Shakespeare?"
I wrote to the teacher and told her that I'm up for an encore if she is. She runs the school play (not Shakespeare) in April and asked if I could come back and help with that, perhaps use Shakespeare to get the over the stage fright of wanting to do the play at all. Ironic, really, when you consider that I'm here today doing this precisely because I was too shy in school to ever try acting myself. I can't wait!
at 11:02 PM
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
I don't often get to post random, drive-by Shakespeare stories that involve my oldest, now that she's in middle school and her knowledge of subjects has shifted from "People would be surprised to hear us talking about this" to "You understand what I'm saying and can have a conversation with me about it."
So instead I get stuff like this:
Geeklet : "Tomorrow I need ten bucks for school."
Geeklet : "It's book fair and there's a Shakespeare book I want."
Me : "Oh? Which one?" I'm already assuming that it's one we've talked about.
Geeklet : "Not Shakespeare Stealer or That Shakespeare Kid . A different one. Something about a girl named Shakespeare or something like that."
Me : "The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet? "
Geeklet : "That's it!"
Me : "Yup, I know that one. Haven't read it yet, but I've talked about it with people. I hear it's ... ok."
Geeklet : "Well, I want it."
She got the book and loves it, by the way. I'll have to add it to my list to read and review when she's done.
at 8:51 PM