Experiencing Shakespeare through performance: A handbook for teachers

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Date
2013-05-23
Authors
van Gestel, Paul Peter
Keyword
Shakespeare , transformation
Abstract
When I was a teenager in high school I hated William Shakespeare. Not only did I hate him I resented him and dreaded having to sit in an English class and struggle with trying to find meaning in the heightened language that is the poetry of William Shakespeare. I found myself in a constant state of questioning the relevance of being forced to read these epically long and difficult plays. Now looking back, I can identify what my resistance to Shakespeare was. I was bored. It was like being forced to listen to a story in another language without having any frame of reference or understanding. Of course there were moments of clarity. It was not difficult to understand the tragic events of Romeo and Juliet and if looked close enough, it would not be too difficult to see Macbeth as a tragic twenty first century action hero. So why was I bored in the first place? Why was Shakespeare so inaccessible to me? It was not until I actually witnessed my first live performance of a Shakespeare play that I began to understand the potential impact not only of Shakespeare's language but of the theatre itself. I remember very vividly going on a class outing to see a production of Henry V. From my perspective as a fourteen year old anything was better than sitting in that English class watching the hands of the clock move backwards. In my mind Henry V was going to be a play about a big fat English monarch who married six times, executed a few wives and ate chicken legs. Little did I know that the production of Henry V I was about to see would change my own personal journey in a very profound way. I was completely engaged by the production and invested in the struggles, defeats and triumphs of the characters before me. For the first time I was able to make meaning and understanding of the poetry of Shakespeare because for the first time I was experiencing it as it was intended to be experienced: as a living breathing entity. Why? Because I was experiencing the play through multiple perspectives and voices. Actors were infusing their own lives, experiences and emotional investmentinto the words and for the first time I could associate action with the language. For the first time the language was clear and I was able to understand the potential of how these plays could be relevant to my own life. This is what my project is all about.
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