Today we had our first moments working directly with Shakespeare’s text, and I think it went fairly well.
I had two goals for our kids today:
(1) That they have an understanding of the prologue and Act 1, Scene 1.
(2) That they get used to speaking and hearing Shakespeare’s language.
Their homework was the preview Act 1, Scene 1 by reading the “modern translation” of the scene. I figured that if they do a bit of a preview with a more “modern” text, then maybe our class would run a bit more smoothly today.
We did several readings of the prologue. First, depending on the class period, either myself or my team teacher read the prologue the entire way through. We paused here and asked if anyone needed clarification on any words or phrases. After answering those, we did a second read through. This time, I had two volunteers: one read the first part of the line, the other finished (as it is divided on the Shakespeare Set Free handout). After this second reading, we went line by line. I asked questions about each line to get them to work through the prologue and make meaning. For example:
Me: “Two households both alike in dignity.” Two households? Who are our two households? You should know from the film.
Kid #1: The Capulets and the Montagues.
Me: Oh ok. So two households–the Capulets and Montagues–are “both alike in dignity.” What do they mean by that? What’s dignity?
Kid #2: Does that maybe have to do with pride?
Me: Pride? Explain.
Kid #2: Like… they are both the same in that they have this dignity or extreme pride for their own family. Too much pride.
We discussed “civil blood” and “civil hands.” We figured out what “star-crossed lovers” were, tying it to the idea of horoscopes and our destiny being determined by the stars. Once we made our way the entire way through, I asked for another volunteer who wanted to read the prologue by themselves. Afterwards I asked how everyone’s comprehension level was. They said that they were understanding it a lot more than the first time I read it.
Next came the acting. I think it’s a crime to have kids sit there silently reading Shakespeare. Plays are meant to be acted, and as much as possible we’re going to act this. (We might act in small groups, large groups, or create prompt books for a scene — but in some way our reading of this play will revolve around the fact that it is a play.)
After assigning roles (and giving Nerf swords to those who would need them in the scene), we began Act 1, Scene 1. We stopped and discussed. We stopped to translate. We stopped and re-acted a line when needed. It was slow. It took time. But, you know, that’s just how it had to be. I had to toss a YouTube video that I wanted to use. I didn’t get to my little activity on iambic pentameter. BUT, kids were working with language and hearing language and were understanding. My goal was met.
And you know what? I think they’re excited about it. A group of them stayed after school to read tonight’s homework (1.2-1.3 in the translated version). They decided to act it together–and not the translated side. They went straight to Shakespeare’s original words.
It was pretty awesome.