Gina Savino, Smithtown High School, Smithtown, NY.
The Pyramus and Thisbe story from Ovid's Metamorphosis; this may be used in conjunction with Romeo and Juliet and/or A Midsummer Night's Dream.
What's On for Today and Why
In this lesson, students will read Ovid's story of Pyramus and Thisbe, either in the 1587 translation that Shakespeare might have known or on a modern website. They will attempt to turn the story into a dramatic scene, mimicking Shakespeare's process of turning Ovid's story into drama. Students will also use the lesson to learn about genre, noting that the same story can easily be turned into a tragedy (Romeo and Juliet) or a comedy (A Midsummer Night's Dream).
This lesson will take at least 2 class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream or Romeo and Juliet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Pyramus and Thisbe: Title page
Pyramus and Thisbe: First excerpt
Pyramus and Thisbe: Second excerpt
Pyramus and Thisbe: Third excerpt
Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe (modernized)
What To Do
1. Introduce Ovid to your class. Ask students to read Ovid's story of Pyramus and Thisbe. To read this from the 1587 Arthur Golding translation that Shakespeare might have read, follow this link or download the pages attached below. To read it from a modern website, follow this link.
2. Ask students to turn Ovid's story into a dramatic scene. If they wish, they may use the dialogue as it is written in the story as the basis for their scene. Otherwise, they can create entirely new dialogue. The idea is simply to create, as Shakespeare has done, a dramatic version of this narrative story. Have students finish this exercise for homework.
3. Place students in small groups and have them share their scripts with their group members. Ask students to pick one script to share with the full group and prepare the scene for performance. Give them 15-20 minutes to stage and rehearse the scenes. When students are ready, have them perform the scenes for each other.
4. After the performances, lead a discussion of what students have learned from this exercise. How many scripts were tragic, like Shakespeare's adaptation of the story into Romeo and Juliet? How many were comic, like Shakespeare's adaptation of the story in Act 5 of A Midsummer Night's Dream? Do students understand Shakespeare's work differently now that they have read one of his sources? If so, what are those differences, and what implications do they have for the meaning and performance of Shakespeare's texts?
How Did It Go?
Were students able to create dramatic scripts from Ovid's story? Did they see connections between the dramatizations they created and the dramatizing that Shakespeare did? Were they able to form opinions about the reasons Shakespeare changed the story in adapting it?
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.