Deborah Bailin, IDEA Public Charter School, Washington, D.C.
A Midsummer Night's Dream: selected scenes This lesson can be modified to fit other plays, especially comedies.
What's On for Today and Why
This lesson makes use of a primary source, students' imaginations, and performance. It should be used at least halfway through the play when students are somewhat familiar with the characters and their personalities.
This group activity will take two to three class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Scenes chosen ahead of time, photocopied if desired.
Passions of The Minde:excerpts
What To Do
1. Have a short class discussion about how gestures of the hands, arms, shoulders, eyes, etc., show the mood or characteristics of the person making the gestures.
2. Brainstorm out loud about some specific gestures and what they might convey. For example, shrugging the shoulders means that one is in doubt, and holding one's chin in the air often is a sign of conceit or arrogance. Have a volunteer write these gestures and their meanings on the board.
3. Give students the "Gestures" handout. These pages come from Passions of the Minde, written by Thomas Wright in 1601. Wright believed that the "internall conceites and affections of our minds, are not onely expressed with wordes, but also declared with actions..." (p.195) and thus his book lists a number of these gestures and their meanings. Ask students to highlight or underline as many of the gestures listed on the pages of the handout as possible. You may wish to assign students to work on identifying these gestures in small groups before sharing findings as a class. Briefly discuss how Wright's gestures compare to the list brainstormed by the class.
4. Explain the concept of "dumbe shewes" or silent scenes that rely entirely on gesture to show what happens. Explain Wright's idea that in comedies, "dumbe shewes often express the whole matter." (p.195)
5. Divide students into performance groups, and assign each group a different scene from the play, to be kept secret from the other groups. Scenes should be ones with which students are already familiar.
6. Explain to groups that they will have fifteen minutes to prepare their silent scenes. Encourage students to use the gestures from the handout as well as those they have brainstormed. Encourage exaggeration.
7. After fifteen minutes, have the groups take turns performing their silent scenes in front of the class. The rest of the class should try to guess which scene is being performed.
How Did It Go?
Did students appropriately use the gestures from the handout and the brainstormed list? Could the rest of the class guess the scene being mimed? Did groups cooperate?
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.