Megan Salomone, Byram Hills High School, Armonk, New York.
Twelfth Night 4.3
What's On for Today and Why
Shakespeare doesn't show the audience the conversation between Olivia and Sebastian after Act 4.1. However, the dialogue in Act 4.3 suggests that they have exchanged warm words. When the scene opens, Olivia has given Sebastian a pearl and is offstage fetching a priest.
This section of the play offers an exciting opportunity for students to do some scene writing of their own. Writing a scene insert or an offstage scene requires close reading and a firm understanding of character. Furthermore, students take ownership of the play as they bring the characters to life.
This lesson will take 1-2 class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of Twelfth Night
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
What To Do
1. Choose two students to read Act 4.3 aloud. Discuss the various sources of Sebastian's confusion and how he arrives at the conclusion that neither he nor Olivia is mad.
2. Write the following writing prompt on the board: Why does Sebastian agree to marry Olivia so quickly? Discuss three possible reasons in detail.
3. Give students five minutes to write; then ask a few to share their ideas.
4. Divide students into groups of four. Tell them that they will be responsible for creating a brief scene that could logically fit between scenes 4.1 and 4.3. Ultimately, their scene will answer the writing prompt in more detail. Students do not have to use iambic pentameter or imitate Shakespeare's style, but they should be as creative with language as possible. Encourage them to experiment with the words and images they have studied in the play.
5. Put the following information on the board or an overhead before the students arrive, but cover it so the students can't see it. After explaining the steps above, uncover the information. Each group will have four roles:
1 Recorder - to record the script as the group composes it together
and help the presenter discuss the group's choices.
2 Actors - to play the roles of Olivia and Sebastian during the performance.
1 Presenter - to explain to the class the choices the group made while
creating the scene.
As a group, respond to the following questions:
1) Does Olivia discuss Toby's "fruitless pranks," as she says she will in Act 4.1?
2) Does Olivia mention previous conversations she has had with Cesario?
3) Who does most of the talking?
4) What prompts Olivia to give Sebastian a pearl?
5) What motivates Olivia to go find the priest?
6. Give students 20-25 minutes to create their scenes. Monitor them closely, offering suggestions and encouraging them to stay true to Shakespeare's characterization and plot details. They don't have a great deal of time, so it's particularly important that they make decisions quickly and stay on task.
7. One at a time, have the groups take the stage. After the actors perform the scene, ask the presenter and recorder to comment briefly on the choices they made while writing. Ask the audience members to discuss the differences between scenes. At the end of the performances, celebrate the students' work with a round of applause and a group stage bow.
How Did It Go?
Did students work together, have fun with language, and create scenes that came to life through performance? Don't worry about whether their scenes were brilliantly worded or theatrically captivating. The emphasis here is on the process of discussing character motivation and creating dialogue.
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.