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“Meant To Be Said; Not Read” by Shawn Rocheleau

Shawn Rocheleau is a remarkable teacher who teachers high school Drama in the Toronto region. We were fortunate enough to meet Shawn a couple of years ago and our paths have continued to cross. We hope you’ll learn as much from Shawn as we have as you explore his philosophy of teaching Shakespeare and sample lesson plan, a beautiful way to introduce students to the rhythm, shape and movement of Shakespeare’s text.

I  fell  in  love  with  Shakespeare  early.  I  can  remember  reading (although  not  understanding)  The Taming  of  the  Shrew  in  late elementary  school,  and  even  though  most  of  it  flew  right  over  my head,  I  loved  the  language.  Even  my  monotonous  Grade  9  and 10 English  teacher’s  readings  of Romeo  and  Juliet  and  The  Merchant of  Venice  couldn’t  kill  my  love  of  the  Bard.  I  played  a dubious Claudius  in  Grade  11.  After  the  privilege  of  participating  in  a student  weekend  at  the Stratford  Festival  in  Grade  13,  and  the disaster  that  was  Introduction  to  Shakespeare,  I  managed to  get myself  through  Teacher’s  College  and  into  my  own  English  and Drama  classrooms.

My  love  of  Shakespeare  became  somewhat  of  a  crusade  when  I realised  that  my  fundamental premise  behind  teaching Shakespeare -­  it’s  meant  to  be  said,  not  read  -­  was  not  a universal  truth. While  lip  service  was  paid  to  “performing” Shakespearean  plays,  most  of  the  lessons  I  was handed  involved  a lot  of  textual  analysis  and  literary  inquiry; very  little  of  it  was  on-­your-­feet exploration.  I  was  even  told  by  a  vice  principal  that  I was  “using  too  much  Drama  in  my Shakespeare  unit.”

The  best  way  to  get  students  -­  any  student,  of  any  level  -­  to “get”  Shakespeare  is  to  get  them  on their  feet.  Get  them  moving. Give  them  the  tools  that  Shakespeare  himself  built  into  the  text and take  the  fear  out  of  the  words.  Because  it  is  those  words  that make  Shakespeare  so  special  and alive  to  audiences.

The  first  thing  I  do,  to  dispel  the  fear  of  the  story,  is  to  tell  it. Not  read  it.  Not  show  it  to  them  in  a video.  Tell  it.  I  use  some snippets  of  text  here  and  there,  where  I  remember  it,  and  I  tell it from beginning  to  end.  I  leave  some  things  out,  and  I  try  not  to editorialise  or  assign  value,  I  just  tell them  what  they  are  going to see,  hear,  and  eventually,  be.

Then  I  give  them  the  tools  of  the  trade.  We  talk  about  the rhythm,  the  meter,  the  rhyme  schemes, the  words  -­  all  of  the structural  pieces  that  Shakespeare  used  to,  well,  to  tell  the  story. We  play with  passages  from  the  script  we’re  working  on,  move around  the  room and  see  what  story  the punctuation  tells.

Shawn RocheleauBy  the  time  we’re  done,  students  have  been  playing  with  the  text and  have  enough  familiarity with  it,  so  we  can  get  down  to  the reading.  I  never  send  students  home  to  read  the  text.  We  do  it in class,  on  our  feet,  with  the  desks  cleared  away,  as  if  we  were  on a  stage.  If  we  can  get  a stage,  or  if  this  is  a  Drama  course,  all the  better.  I  treat  it  like  a  performance  text  (which  of course,  it is)  and  I  talk  to  them  like  they  are  actors.  What  did  you  just say?  Who  did  you  say  it to?  Why  did  you  say  it?  What  does  it mean?  Just  lots  of  questions,  and  everyone  can  answer.

Then  it’s  their  turn.  They  get  to  play  with  the  text  on  their  own, explore  the  meanings  and  the words,  and  eventually  create  their own  interpretation  of  Shakespeare’s  works.  They  must  use the text, and  they  can’t  alter  the  fundamental  storyline,  but  otherwise,  the world  is  their  stage. They adapt, they create and eventually, they perform.

And  then,  if  we  can,  we’ll  go  see  a  play,  be  it  the  one  we  have studied  or  another.  Watching students  react  to  something  they have  worked  on  and  performed  is  more  magical  than  watching the  play  -­  I  always  make  sure  I  sit  behind  them  so  I  can  watch their  reactions.  My  favourite moments  are  when  they  come  to  a new  realisation  or  understanding  of  the  text  -­  the  eureka moment where  you  know  that  their  understanding  of  the  world  just  got  a little  bit  broader.

There  are  a  ton  of  activities  and  exercises  we  can  use  to  get students  to  understand  and appreciate  Shakespeare.  The  Stratford Festival,  Royal  Shakespeare  Company,  Shakespeare’s Globe,  the Folger  Library  -­  all  of  these  places  have  fantastic  resources  for educators  who  want to  do  more  than  just  have  students  read silently  and  answer  questions.  In  my  opinion  -­  and  in  my practice  -­  anything  that  gets  them  off  their  seats,  on  their  feet, with  a  script  in  their  hand  and  an idea  in  their  head is  golden.

Shawn’s lesson plan: The Shape of Shakespeare can downloaded here. Some fabulous ideas, thank for sharing Shawn.


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