Brush Up Your Shakespeare!

No one could be more surprised than I was when one of my sixth-graders said, after we had slogged through Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 29” at the end of our poetry unit, “Hey, this is fun.  Shakespeare ought to be an elective.” Hence, our “Fun with Shakespeare” elective was born – no grades, no homework, just fun. As this elective course came into being, however, I wondered, how was I going to update Shakespeare as 21st-century entertainment?
FolgerforteachersMy first destination was the Folger Shakespeare Library – in person, since I was visiting in the Washington, DC, area over Spring Break.  There I picked up a book to create a paper model of the Globe theater, an activity book, and a collection of “quips, cusses, and curses” to break the ice. Happily, I also stumbled upon a stack of bookmarks that listed the Folger’s online resources, a playlist on iTunes including songs by Taylor Swift and Elvis Costello, for example. The Folger also has a YouTube channel and specific resources for younger audiences.
From there, I introduced my students to The Reduced Shakespeare Company and an Interactive Globe Theater website. An excellent TedEd video, “Insults by Shakespeare,” by April Gudenrath introduced us to Shakepeare’s language through his insults, something any middle-schooler could grow to love.  Next, I felt they were ready for assigned monologues to try out.  Stagemilk provided help with links to a list of “Female Shakespeare Monologues” and  “Male Shakespeare Monologues,” leading me to famous speeches by Iago, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Hamlet, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Jaques, Juliet, and Portia.
Shakespeeps for Shakespeare Day

Shakespeeps: Macbeth Murders a King
Shakespeeps: Macbeth Murders a King

Inspired by the Washington Post’s annual Peep Show contest at Easter time, I challenged my students to make Shakespeeps to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23rd. Apparently we weren’t the first to attempt this brave new world. It turns out there’s a pretty silly (and fun) Shakespeep movie on YouTube. More traditional birthday celebrations are documented at the Official Shakespeare’s Birthday Website, while I prefer Five Geeky Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday. You might even want to check in with Shakepeare Geek, who posts all day long on what he calls “Shakespeare Day.”
ShakesTweets and Apps
Searching #Shakespeare on Twitter led me to a daily dose of favorite quotes, information about Shakespeare’s birthday celebrations around the world, and @ _W_Shakespeare himself. Or is it @Wm_Shakespeare? (Funny, they look exactly alike!)
Not to be outdone, app designers have been hard at work finding ways to allow us to celebrate the Bard on mobile devices. J.S. Biersdorfer provided an introduction in the New York Times, New Apps for Help Reading Shakespeare” (November 30, 2012). I discovered numerous Manga versions of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as Shakespeare in Bits, Shakespeare Translator, Shakespeare Fortune Cookie, and the plain and simple Shakespeare.  I opted for the exhaustive glossary in Shakespeare Pro ($9.99), but my personal favorite is ShakeShare, which allows me to share my love of Shakespeare with all of my geeky literary friends.
Let’s Get Serious
My students and I have more than enough Shakespeare fun to last to the end of the school year – or next year’s Shakespeare Day.  If you feel the need for the serious stuff, which abounds on the web, you might start with the following:, 100 Incredibly Useful Links for Teaching and Studying Shakespeare
PBS Shakespeare in the Classroom
Shakespeare and Elizabethan England at Web English Teacher.
Otherwise, let us celebrate another year of Shakespeare: “Frame your mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life” (The Taming of the Shrew).

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