Delight would be better than fun;Cross-phase;Books;Reviews;Arts

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
LIVEWIRE SHAKESPEARE ROMEO AND JULIET, MACBETH, TWELFTH NIGHT. Teacher resource books. By Philip Page and Marilyn Pettit. Hodder amp; Stoughton. pound;24.99 each. Play pound;4.50 each.

These plays, each with its photocopiable teacher's resource book, are designed for key stages 2 to 4. Each play comprises abridged key scenes linked by plot summaries and black and white cartoons based on the text.

Presentation is unintimidating. But the cartoons are better suited to Twelfth Night and the sub-plots, where they make the humour explicit. Speeches such as Macbeth's "Is this a dagger which I see before me ..." fit less happily within this format.

Any abridged text invites controversy, but it is difficult to justify the omission of Feste's songs from Twelfth night (stripped of his music he cuts a slight figure), Macbeth's Porter's drunken bawdiness, or Mercutio's Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet. This speech, in particular, is a clear invitation for children to experiment with metaphor.

A reluctance to challenge at the profound level of language and imagination impoverishes some of the worksheets.

The authors' avowed intentions are to place emphasis on "fun" and pupils are invited to create comic strips, host chat shows, write horoscopes, address agony aunts. A focus on the language and higher expectations of written work are, however, a better introduction to Shakespeare. Better, for instance, that a child, inspired by Mercutio, makes metaphors, or, troubled by moral dilemmas in Macbeth, writes an essay, than designs a weather map illustrating conditions at the time of Duncan's murder.

But there are strengths: the plays are presented as stage works rather than texts and the worksheets on improvisation are often challenging. Perhaps it is the intention to devise activities with SATs in mind which weakens the series. Pupils will know all about the plays but will not know them in the literary sense. In the end, "fun" must be transformed into delight and joy.

Jill Pirrie is a former English co-ordinator at a middle school in Suffolk.

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