Anne Turner, Folger Shakespeare Library.
This lesson deals with the lovers' scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream (1.1, 2.2, and 3.2), although it can be adapted for many of Shakespeare's other plays.
What's On for Today and Why
Middle school students are often hesitant to perform Shakespeare. They tend towards two extremes: either they don't move at all, or they use overly-theatrical gestures that have little connection to the text.
This lesson encourages students to think of Shakespeare's works as play texts with the director built in. It challenges them to search the text for obvious stage directions, and then to begin looking for more subtle hints about the movement of characters.
The lesson culminates with student performances. The entire lesson will take 2-3 class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream 2.2.41-71 with the line numbers and stage directions removed.
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Midsummer Love Handout
What To Do
1. Begin by gathering students in a circle. Remind them of the conditions of Shakespeare's own theater: actors had little time for rehearsal, and they often didn't receive full copies of the script just their individual lines. An author or director might have been present for rehearsals, but probably not. Ask the students what they would do, as authors, to help actors out.
2. Circulate copies of Handout 1, parallel versions of 1.1.23-30 from the modern text and the First Folio text (the earliest printed edition). Students will notice the editions diverge with "Stand forth Demetrius" and "Stand forth Lysander." Ask the students whether they believe those lines are intended to be spoken or not, and make sure they give their reasons. (For example, do the lines fit into the meter?) Although they look like stage directions, these lines are actually a part of the speech implied stage directions.
3. Ask four volunteers to stand up and take the parts of Theseus, Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius. Have them create a beginning "pose" for the scene, then hold still as you read Egeus's speech. Did it make sense? Try the process again, only this time ask the actors to make appropriate movement when they hear Shakespeare's stage directions. Discuss the differences between the two performances.
4. Divide the class into groups of four, and pass out copies of 2.2.41-71, with line numbers and stage directions removed. Each group is to find as many implied stage directions as they can. Two students can read the scene, while the other two enact whatever movement suggestions they hear. The pairs should switch jobs and repeat the process. Do both sets of pairs make the same choices? (If students are getting stuck, have them look to the action words in the scene: the verbs.) Students will probably focus on the references to lying down and Hermia's repeated insistence to "lie further off."
5. Come together as a class to discuss the choices that were made. On the blackboard or overhead projector, note the most common implied stage directions that students found. Must an actor move in a particular way to make the scene make sense? Will a movement, even if unnecessary, make the scene funnier, more touching, or more interesting? Students should be getting an idea for actions that are essential as opposed to more subtle movement choices.
6. Have students break back into their groups of four. Give them a new script, Handout 2, an edited version of the lovers' quarrel. Students are to stage the scene fully. They should begin by working collaboratively to decide on implied stage directions. Then, they should add some of the interpretive, non-essential movements. (Ask students to focus on the adjectives and nouns, which supply some of the more colorful character choices.)
7. Have the groups perform for one another. Discuss their choices. What was essential? What unique choices were there? Did any of them change the way you thought about the scene without changing the basic meaning?
8. As an optional extension, have students note down the implied stage directions and essential movement choices within a scene, then have them compare those notes to the stage directions added by modern editors. Do they agree with what the editor added or left out?
How Did It Go?
By the end of this lesson, students should be comfortable on their feet. You've succeeded if the students are able to point to movements required by the scene and are beginning to make textually informed decisions about character movement. You've done an outstanding job if students realize what doesn't belong--actions that don't make sense--and are instead making engaging choices.
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.