Jeremy Ehrlich, Folger Shakespeare Library.
Heather Bouley, student, West Springfield High School in Springfield, VA.
What's On for Today and Why
Students will use online resources in order to examine patterns of imagery in Richard II. By comparing these patterns to those of other Shakespeare plays, the students will draw conclusions about the different reasons Shakespeare uses imagery in the play.
This lesson will take two class periods.
What You Need
Internet-linked computer lab for the class period or available for homework
Optional: No Plays Like Home Handout
What To Do
1. Demonstrate the use of the online concordance at http://shakespeare.clusty.com. You might want to show students a variety of online concordances, such as the one at http://www.it.usyd.edu.au/~matty/Shakespeare/test.html.
Explain that a concordance groups together all the uses of each word in a piece of literature. Show students how to search for a particular word on the site.
2. Divide the students into pairs. Give each pair of students a set of images to explore in the play. Make sure they know they will have to look up all the different forms of the word: a student with the word "blood" may need to enter "blood", "bloody", "bleed", "bleeds", etc. Possible sets of images to use include: earth/land/ground; blood/pale/blush/hand; sun/son; tongue/mouth/speech/word; word/sentence; gaunt/Gaunt; plague/pestilence/infection; sour/sweet; snake/venom; crown/jewel; breath/breathe; honor/name; beget/breed/birth/womb/inherit.
3. Have the students use the online concordance to examine their sets of images. At each stage, make them attempt to draw conclusions: what does this information tell them about what Shakespeare is trying to say with his imagery? First, have them find and examine the uses of their word(s) in the play. Here, they might note the relative frequency of words used in the play. For instance, they might note the words in the first image set, "earth/land/ground", are used a total of 71 times in the play, suggesting that these are important elements of the texture of images in the play.
4. Second, have them examine each use of the word in the context in the play in which it appears. Can they find any patterns in the way a word is used throughout the play? They might note that womb and birth imagery are nearly always used in negative contexts. Coax them to use this information to draw conclusions: what is the play saying about birth? How is that relevant to the themes of the play?
5. Third, have them go back to the concordance and compare Shakespeare's use of these words in Richard II to his use of them in the other histories in his series of history plays. Chronologically in terms of English history, the plays Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II follow Richard II. Have the students examine their image patterns in these plays and see if they can draw some of the same conclusions. For instance, they may note that in both of these plays together, the words earth, land, and ground are mentioned only 59 times. What does that tell them about the use of these words in Richard II?
6. Next, have students examine these same image patterns in some of the other plays he was writing around the same time. Before Richard II, scholars think he wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet. After Richard II, scholars think he wrote King John and then The Merchant of Venice. How is his use of imagery different in Richard II than in the other work he was doing at the time? What kinds of conclusions can students draw from that information? In these four other plays, they might note that the words "word" and "sentence" are rarely used as decrees, and yet are so used frequently in Richard II. How does the feel of this play change due to this change in imagery? How does the context for these usages change as well?
7. Finally, have the students examine Shakespeare's use of these images within the context of his entire body of work. Students might note that the word "Gaunt" appears only as a proper name in the rest of the canon, while it appears frequently as an adjective as well as a proper name in Richard II. What can students conclude about the reasons for these differences from the rest of the canon?
8. Have students report their findings to the whole group. Have groups compare other students' findings with their own to see if they can uncover any larger patterns of imagery in the play.
9. Optional extension: download and copy the 12-page handout "There's No Plays Like Home". This is a dramatic retelling of the Wizard of Oz story told entirely with lines from Shakespeare. It was written by Heather Bouley, a sophomore at West Springfield High School in 2000–01. Bouley's class used online resources to identify Shakespearean lines relating to the Oz story. Have students read this play. Then, give them a well-known fairy tale or modern story to research online. For extra credit, see if students can retell this story using Shakespeare's language as Bouley has.
How Did It Go?
Were students able to draw conclusions from the information they received from the concordance website? Were they able to generate a discussion about the imagery in the play? Did the exercise show the students image patterns they had not seen before?
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.