What Shakespeare play has the most spit flying? Is the most controversial? Is the most popular play in Israel? *
And that is how I greeted my students in our TBG Community at the beginning of last semester as we began the Merchant of Venice (MOV)! It was the second time in 10 years that I would teach it.
And let’s face it, having another daughter embrace Portia and memorize the “Quality of Mercy” speech is … priceless.
I decided that this time, our community was going to do something extra-special; we were going to write a book. I assigned each and every scene of the play to a different student or mom (yes, the moms in our community fully participate!) Then, when we came together at our bimonthly meetings, whoever was assigned a scene from that week’s readings would share their narration. At the end of the semester, all the narrations were gathered into a book by Lizzie and submitted to a book making company. The wonderful result is this book:
It has everyone’s narrations plus the photos from our Family Night presentation of the courtroom scene of Act IV, Scene 1. The cover artwork was delightfully done by Kenneth Benson.
When I first taught this play, I ordered an edited version of the movie that stars Al Pacino as Shylock. It was a great investment and we enjoyed many clips of this beautiful production in our meetings. (The company was called Family Edited DVDs but I’m not sure they are around anymore.) The 1973 movie with Laurence Olivier looked more like Dark Shadows set in Victorian England than Shakespeare, so that wasn’t an option for me.
Usury, ghettos, anti-Semitism, true Christianity – all these things made for rich conversations and a fuller understanding of life. That’s what Shakespeare does.
Let me outline what we do for Shakespeare in our community. We meet for 6 times a semester, every other week. So as the teacher, the schedule looks like this:
Meeting #1 – Introduce the play, pass out the books, cover sheet, cds. Give assignment for meeting #2 – read, listen, narrate Act 1 at home, make one commonplace entry. Those with the special assignment of a scene narration should bring their narration to the next meeting to share.
Meeting #2 – everyone shares their commonplace entry. Short discussion of Act 1. Special assignments to be shared. Short activity (showing a clip of a scene for Act 1 or Act 2, sometimes a reading where everyone takes a part, etc.) Give assignment for meeting #3 – read/listen/narrate to Act 2, one cp entry, special narration assignments.
And so on!
In our TBG Community, we often distribute what I call a “cover sheet” when we begin a new play. Below is my cover sheet for The Merchant of Venice. Sometimes it is just a picture with the name, sometimes it has dates, and here you can see I included a character chart.
You can read more of my Shakespeare posts with helps here. Scroll down to the section “Shakespeare in our Community”.
Are you doing a few Shakespeare plays this school year? I hope so!
* from The Friendly Shakespeare by Epstein
The full quote from the title is a favorite – “How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” – Portia