Tag Archives: Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice

5 Sep

I am experiencing difficulty engaging one of my junior classes.  These students don’t really want to discuss ideas raised in texts and they don’t want to write about what they have read.

To address this problem, I decided to begin my The Merchant of Venice unit with a moral dilemma, namely the trolley car problem posed by Michael Sandel in his ‘Justice’ series of lectures.  I hoped that this would get my students thinking and talking about the relationship between justice and morality, and that I could use this as foundation for understanding some of the issues in The Merchant of Venice.

Strangely enough it worked!  My kids articulated perspectives, justified their viewpoints, and proposed changes to the scenarios to make connections to real world experiences.


‘New Boy’

2 Sep

I have just finished reading Tracy Chevalier’s novel New Boy, it is an appropriation of Othello and part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series that also includes Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.

Like OthelloNew Boy explores jealousy, manipulation and choices that cannot be unmade.  Interestingly, New Boy sets the action in a school playground, perhaps alluding to the notion that the manipulation engineered by Ian (the Iago character) is just another childish game.  This setting also allows the easy manipulation of Oesi (the Othello character) to seem more plausible; it makes more sense to me that a child, rather than an adult soldier, may not have the resilience or savvy to withstand the tactics of a manipulator.

Another interesting choice made by the author is the title.  Unlike Shakespeare who named his text directly after his protagonist, Chevalier has chosen to title hers New Boy,  I think this raises some interesting questions:  Does using the protagonist’s name honour  the protagonist or publicly call out his conduct? Is referencing a status rather than a name a statement of universal applicability or does it buy in to the very prejudice that is described in the text?  Do these choices honour victims or name perpetrators?  Why does the manipulator not have his name or his title plastered across the front of the cover?

I think New Boy could be a really interesting text to teach alongside Othello in Year 11 Advanced, perhaps functioning as a precursor to an HSC study of The Tempest and Hag-Seed.


Representations of Youth

31 Jul

I am always interested in new ways of engaging my students in Shakespearean texts.  I am also always interested in new ways of teaching these texts.

This year, extending an idea raised by a colleague, my students studied Romeo & Juliet through the lens of representations of youth.  We engaged with key scenes, sought to identify how youth were portrayed and to understand how these representations were constructed.

I began the unit by showing students a number of trailers for Romeo & Juliet appropriations.  For each trailer, students had to identify and account for the characteristics of youth, explain which representations had continued resonance, and explain why particular representations frustrated/angered them.  They also had to identify and explain continuity and change in terms of representation across the trailers.

I found this to be an interesting way of understanding the depth and detail of students’ thought processes.  Some students, for example, saw only the demonstration of romantic passion and suggested it was not an accurate representation of youth today as young people do not fall in love so quickly today.  Others however, looked at romantic passion and saw, instead, young people’s abilities to throw themselves into projects with enthusiasm and commitment, often in service of causes they believe in.  For these students, the representation of passion was then both accurate and as relevant in Romeo and Juliet as in contemporary society.


21 Jan

I recently read Nutshell by Ian McEwan.  In this creative re-imagining of Hamlet, the unborn child serves as witness, in the womb, to the schemes of his mother and uncle.

While I found the concept a bit creepy, and the execution overly dramatic, flowery and, at times, uncomfortable, I do think this novel has potential as a related text for AOS Discovery.  In particular, I think it would be an interesting companion to The Tempest.  In The Tempest, Prospero embarks upon the process of rediscovering and re-evaluating himself and his relationships.  As a result of this process, Prospero is, in effect, ‘born again’ with revised attitudes and perspectives.  In Nutshell, the processes of discovery and rediscovery is explored from the vantage of an unborn child and pertain to relationships, emotions and personalities.  While Prospero’s judgement is sometimes clouded by a desire for vengeance, the child’s in Nutshell is complicated by the innate bond between mother and child.

I think a stronger student could engage meaningfully with the disparate mental landscapes offered in each text, and how discoveries reverberate and impact the self, others, and assessments of the world.



19 Dec

In The Tempest, discoveries occur when individuals step away from their prejudices and preoccupations.  In other words, the discoveries occur when individuals see the world from perspectives other than their own.

These ideas are echoed in Jeannie Baker’s Mirror, a picture book which compares and contrasts the lives of families in the Western world and the Arab world.  Through reading the text, responders are encouraged to set aside their prejudices and discover commonalities and celebrate difference, rather than demonising a group due to their difference.  In this sense, a parallel can be found between Prospero’s journey of self-discovery in The Tempest and that of the responders in relation to Mirror.

Note too that this text could be used to illuminate ideas in Go Back to Where You Came From.

Twelve micro-poems

9 Sep

In Twelfth Night, Orsino sends Cesario to woo Olivia  Students struggled to relate to this element of the text and criticised Orsino for not stepping up and declaring his feelings in person.

This precipitated a wider discussion about communication and how, even in the modern-day, we often do not engage directly and in person with others.  For example, we might chat on Facebook or send tweets or like posts on Instagram.

As the end goal in this unit is for students to create a teaser campaign for their own modern adaptation of Twelfth Night, I thought it appropriate to invite my students to experiment with how the wooing of Olivia might take place over social media.  With this in mind, I asked my students to create a series of micro-poems which could be tweeted from Orsino (@DukeO) to Olivia (@LovelyLiv).  Students embraced the challenge, making each word pack a punch.  It was great to see them engage with the need for the micro-poems to flatter Olivia, extol Orsino’s virtues, and persuade Olivia to give Orsino another go.  In fact, if this were real, I think #GiveDukeOAGo would probably have been trending!

Orsino’s soundtrack

7 Sep

At the start of Twelfth Night, Orsino is a bit sad because Olivia is not returning his affection.  In a bid to get students to understand Orsino’s mood, I asked them to work in pairs to create a 10-song playlist that reflected Orsino’s mood and emotions.

It was really interesting to watch my students discussing ideas.  Some students wanted to only include songs that reflected Orsino’s sadness and disappointment.  These students selected a number of melancholy songs as well as some love songs.  Other students picked up on Orsino’s desire to alter his mood, and thus sought to include songs which would help Orsino to take his mind off Olivia.  For these students, a few upbeat songs also found their way into the mix.

I was really pleased with my students’ justifications and the way they tried to get into Orsino’s head and accurately represent his complex emotional state.

Language that resonates

28 Jul

A while ago I wrote a post entitled ‘The Power of ONE‘.  In that post, I discussed a strategy in which students had to read a section of text and isolate ONE sentence, ONE phrase and ONE word that resonated with them and was relevant to the text’s overall message.  They then had to justify their choices.

I recently used this activity with a junior class in relation to an excerpt from a Shakespearean text which we are studying.  The results were really interesting in that they reflected students’ own interests and priorities.

The more vocal feminists in my class isolated sentences, phrases and words that pertained to the treatment of women in the text and, more particularly, what they perceived as normalised or institutionalised portrayal of women as limited or inferior.

My students who are experiencing their first crushes and are beginning to embark on their first relationships were far more attuned to the sentences, phrases and words that offered advice about love and relationships.  In many instances, the sentences, phrases and words resonated because of the perceived usefulness or uselessness of the advice offered.

Other students were variously incensed or entertained by the disconnect between appearance and reality, and focused on these ideas.  These students often chose sentences, phrases and words which were susceptible to multiple interpretations.

This activity was great as it allowed me to get to know my students better.  It also offered students an opportunity to articulate and reflect upon their thought processes and, in many instances, model this thinking for students who were struggling to engage with the text.

Pairs of texts

31 Mar

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about interesting textual pairings for study as part of a comparative unit.  Many of my ideas are not suitable for my school context or the ability levels of my classes.  However, I do think that, in the right contexts and with the right classes, all could form the basis of interesting and engaging units.

  1. A Lesson Before Dying (novel) & To Kill a Mockingbird (film)
  2. A Long Way Gone (memoir) & Freedom Writers (film)
  3. A Long Way Gone (memoir) & Hotel Rwanda (film)
  4. A Long Way Gone (memoir) & Schindler’s List (film)
  5. Americanah (novel) & selected episodes of Black-ish (television series)
  6. A Monster Calls (novel) & Boy (film)
  7. A Monster Calls (novel) & Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (film)
  8. A Monster Calls (novel/film) & Frankenstein (novel)
  9. Anzac Girls (television series) & Poetry of Siegfried Sassoon (poetry)
  10. Bad Feminist (collection of essays) & For Colored Girls (film)
  11. Becoming Kirrali Lewis (novel) & Boy (film)
  12. Becoming Kirrali Lewis (novel) & The Kite Runner (graphic novel)
  13. Brave New World (novel) & The Crucible (play)
  14. Brave New World (novel) & Never Let Me Go (film)
  15. Brave New World (novel) & V for Vendetta (film)
  16. Briar Rose (novel) & Grave of the Fireflies (film)
  17. Briar Rose (novel) & Lion (film)
  18. Briar Rose (novel) & Night (autobiography)
  19. Briar Rose (novel) & Schindler’s List (film)
  20. Deadline (novel) & Dead Poets Society (film)
  21. Deadline (novel) & The Fault In Our Stars (film)
  22. Deadline (novel) & The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (film)
  23. Deadly, Unna? (novel) & A United Kingdom (film)
  24. Deadly, Unna? (novel) & Hairspray (film)
  25. Deadly, Unna? (novel) & Invictus (film)
  26. Deadly, Unna? (novel) & Remember the Titans (films)
  27. Deadly, Unna? (novel) & Selected episodes of Redfern Now (television series)
  28. El Deafo (graphic novel) & The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (novel)
  29. Etiquette and Espionage (novel) & Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (film)
  30. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (novel) & After the Storm (film)
  31. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (novel) & 11’09’01 (collection of short films)
  32. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (novel) & Lion (film)
  33. Face (novel) & The Intouchables (film)
  34. Fahrenheit 451 (novel) & Persepolis (graphic novel or film)
  35. Fahrenheit 451 (novel) & V For Vendetta (film)
  36. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf (choreopoem) & Mustang (film)
  37. Frankenstein (novel) & Frankenweenie (film)
  38. Frankenstein (novel) & Never Let Me Go (film)
  39. Frankenstein (novel) & The Rocky Horror Picture Show (film)
  40. Girl Rising (film) & Poetry of Maya Angelou (poetry)
  41. Hamlet (play) & Nutshell (novel)
  42. Hiroshima (novel) & Grave of the Fireflies (film)
  43. Life of Pi (novel) & Castaway (film)
  44. Lord of the Flies (novel) & Where the Wild Things Are (film)
  45. Lord of the Flies (novel) & The Hunger Games (film)
  46. Macbeth (play) & Selected episodes of Designated Survivor (television series)
  47. Macbeth (play) & The Dressmaker (film)
  48. Macbeth (play) & The Gods of Wheat Street (television series)
  49. Maus (graphic novel) & A Long Way Gone (memoir)
  50. Maus (graphic novel) & Night (autobiography)
  51. Maus (graphic novel) & Schindler’s List (film)
  52. March (novel) & Little Wome(novel)
  53. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (novel) & The Fault in Our Stars (film)
  54. Night (autobiography) & A Long Way Gone (memoir)
  55. Night (autobiography) & Over A Thousand Hills I Walk With You (biography)
  56. Night (autobiography) & Rabbit-Proof Fence (film)
  57. Night (autobiography) & Schindler’s List (film)
  58. Night (autobiography) & The Seven Stages of Grieving (play)
  59. Nona and Me (novel) & Looking for Alibrandi (film)
  60. Nona and Me (novel) & September (film)
  61. Of Mice and Men (novel) & Hunt for the Wilderpeople (film)
  62. Othello (play) & Desdemona (play)
  63. Othello (play) & Gone Girl (film)
  64. Othello (play) & New Boy (novel)
  65. Othello (play) & V For Vendetta (film)
  66. Over A Thousand Hills I Walk With You (biography) & Hotel Rwanda (film)
  67. Over A Thousand Hills I Walk With You (biography) & Lion (film)
  68. Over A Thousand Hills I Walk With You (biography) & Maus (graphic novel)
  69. Over A Thousand Hills I Walk With You (biography) & Night (autobiography)
  70. Over A Thousand Hills I Walk With You (biography) & Schindler’s List (film)
  71. Pride & Prejudice (novel) & Bride and Prejudice (film)
  72. Pride & Prejudice (novel) & Bridget Jones’s Diary (film)
  73. Pride & Prejudice (novel) & Mustang (film)
  74. Refugee Boy (novel) & Freedom Writers (film)
  75. Refugee Boy (novel) & The African Doctor (film)
  76. Refugee Boy (novel) & The Arrival (picture book)
  77. Romeo & Juliet (play) & Alex and Eve (film)
  78. Romeo & Juliet (play) & A United Kingdom (film)
  79. Romeo & Juliet (play) & Freedom Writers (film)
  80. Romeo & Juliet (play) & Hairspray (film)
  81. Romeo & Juliet (play) & Meet the Patels (film)
  82. Romeo & Juliet (play) & Mustang (film)
  83. Romeo & Juliet (play) & My Big Fat Greek Wedding (film)
  84. Romeo & Juliet (play) & Tanna (film)
  85. Romeo & Juliet (play) & The Fault in Our Stars (film or novel)
  86. Romeo & Juliet (play) & Titanic (film)
  87. Romeo & Juliet (play) & Viceroy’s House (film)
  88. Romeo & Juliet (play) & West Side Story (film)
  89. Scattered Lives (play) & Americannah (novel)
  90. Scattered Lives (play) & Freedom Writers (film)
  91. Scattered Lives (play) & Looking for Alibrandi (novel)
  92. Scattered Lives (play) & Poetry of Peter Skrzynecki (poetry)
  93. Scattered Lives (play) & Poetry of Selina Nwulu (poetry)
  94. Scattered Lives (play) & Poetry of Warsan Shire (poetry)
  95. Schindler’s Ark (novel) & Hotel Rwanda (film)
  96. Speak (novel) & For Colored Girls (film)
  97. Stargirl (novel) & Wadjda (film)
  98. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (novel) & Hunt for the Wilderpeople (film)
  99. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (memoir) & Queen of Katwe (film)
  100. The Color Purple (novel) & For Colored Girls (film)
  101. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (novel) & Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (film)
  102. The Dreamer (novel) & Billy Elliot (film)
  103. The First Third (novel) & Boy (film)
  104. The Fault in Our Stars (novel) & Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (film)
  105. The Help (novel) & A United Kingdom (film)
  106. The Help (novel) & Remember the Titans (film)
  107. The Help (novel) & The Blindside (film)
  108. The Outsiders (novel) & Hunt for the Wilderpeople (film)
  109. The Outsiders (novel) & Freedom Writers (film)
  110. The Outsiders (novel) & Yolngu Boy (film)
  111. The Rabbits (picture book) & Deadly, Unna? (novel)
  112. The Rabbits (picture book) & Poetry of Oodgeroo Noonuccal (poetry)
  113. The Rabbits (picture book) & Rabbit-Proof Fence (film)
  114. The Scarlet Letter (novel) & Easy A (film)
  115. The Skull Beneath the Skin (novel) & The Real Inspector Hound (play)
  116. The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman (novel) & Freedom Writers (film)
  117. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (novel) & Hamlet (play or film)
  118. The Kite Runner (novel) & Big Fish (film)
  119. The Kite Runner (novel) & Boy (film)
  120. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel) & A United Kingdom (film)
  121. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel) & Hairspray (film)
  122. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel) & Poetry of Langston Hughes (poetry)
  123. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel) & Remember the Titans (film)
  124. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel) & Selected episodes of Redfern Now (television series)
  125. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel) & The Blindside (film)
  126. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel) & The Help (film)
  127. To This Day (graphic novel) & Wonder (novel)
  128. To This Day (graphic novel) & Face (novel)
  129. Vernon God Little (novel) & Elephant (film)
  130. Voices from Chernobyl (non-fiction) & Grave of the Fireflies (film)
  131. War Horse (film) & Poetry of Siegfried Sassoon (poetry)
  132. War Horse (film) & Poetry of Wilfred Owen (poetry)

Why should we still study Shakespeare?

2 Jan

While researching the Shakespearean dramas that I hope to teach this year, I happened upon an amazing Slam Poem that seeks to explain why Shakespeare’s plays remain relevant today.  I am tempted to play the poem just prior to my traditional ‘Hip Hop or Shakespeare?‘ game with which I start each Shakespeare unit.