TEACHING SHAKESPEARE TODAY. A PERFORMANCE APPROACH
University of Alicante (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2009 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Conference name: 2nd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 16-18 November, 2009
Location: Madrid, Spain
Abstract:Despite the barriers between literary and theatrical interpretation of texts like Shakespeare´s remain in educational institutions, a growing interest in performance is increasing among teachers to get students on their feet, doing exercises, reading and in-terpreting drama as performance. However performance pedagogy does more than involve students in the acting work needed to bring a play text to life. It engages them in interpretation; it makes issues of structure or subtext immediate; it deepens understanding of the play history. The paper illustrates how attention to theatrical de-tail can give insight into Shakespeare´s work and world; how an omitted entrance ac-quires significance; how a stage direction in a scene proves to be eloquent and how experimenting today with props in a scene reveals cultural attitudes.
Asking students to read plays, scenes, or speeches aloud in class is one way of performing, but teachers should also ask students to attend live productions or to view films or videos and to make them think about what they have seen. By learning to see a production, we can help students deepen their understanding not only of the texts but also of the complex interactions of performance.
Today it makes sense teaching a generation of students visually trained by films and television to perform drama by thinking of plays as performance texts, by reading aloud, or by learning to describe what they see in a theatre production or film. But why to focus on Shakespeare? Shakespeare´s plays provide a way of teaching through performance precisely because Shakespeare is still a common subject in most contemporary educational curricula and because his plays have been re-staged, adapted, changed, and revived to reflect and illustrate the history and culture of the modern world. We have a unique opportunity not only to introduce students to Shakespearean texts but also to place those texts in the context both of contemporary theatre and culture as the paper shows.
Moreover, though staging of texts appears to be one of the most pragmatic of approaches, it forces teachers to ask questions like, What does your character want? What is your character´s motivation for making a particular statement? What kind of power or status does your character have in the play?
The paper also tries to answer questions which immediately provide a personal involvement and a point of view for each participant. And by helping students to begin to understand that reading dramatic literature is itself an interpretive act, we may direct them toward more sophisticated queries, such as, How much internal life does your character have? Do you find your character saying one thing and meaning other? How can one communicate such patterns to a listening audience? How does the ending of a play resolve the tensions established throughout the play? Do you find a difference in reading modern plays and those of Shakespeare?
Role-playing can be a way of generating discussion as an introduction to performance. This is also a hard and participatory exercise, because students have to know and assimilate their character well enough to generate language in a variety of contexts. Getting them to role-play would require developing didactic strategies and compiling material on the characters they are supposed to represent.
Keywords: shakespeare, performance, teaching, script, classroom.