Suit the action to the word

19th November 2004 at 00:00
The North Face of Shakespeare: Activities for Teaching the Plays

By James Stredder

Wincot Press pound;11.99

42 Maidenhead Road,

Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6XT

Shakespeare in Education

Edited by Martin Blocksidge

Continuum pound;50

Looking for fresh ideas for teaching iambic pentameter? Stredder shows how to develop your students' ability in acquiring the five-beat rhythm. He moves from the everyday "How nice of you to come to tea today", through the regularity of "Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel", to the syncopation that underlies Shakespeare's less regular lines. There's both fun and understanding in Stredder's technique of getting students to "peg out" the stressed words, miming the action of hanging them on to a clothesline with clothes pegs.

Then there are "style shifts". Stredder gives styles in which students can read and act a passage of text. These "styles" may be verbs: flatter, seduce, command, threaten... or they may be adverbs: charmingly, coldly, sadly and so on. Or they may be "roles" that students can play: bookie on a racecourse, rapper, game-show comp re, gossip in the hairdresser's, or a host of other roles suggested by the teacher or class.

Stredder offers a rich variety of imaginative ways for students to inhabit character. Sir Toby struggles to pull on his boots as he wakes from a drunken slumber. Shylock counts out piles of money as he speaks. A crumpled ball of paper serves as Yorick's skull as students speak the graveyard scene. The teacher tells a story as students enact Caliban (Stredder provides the script) : "You are asleep in a dry comfortable place on a desert island..." How might Malvolio sit on a chair, take a dog for a walk, eat an apple?

Martin Blocksidge's collection admirably complements Stredder's book.

Talented teachers give detailed accounts of teaching Shakespeare at key stages 3 and 4, A-level (a persuasive justification of contextual approaches), university, and at Stratford's Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Sue Gregory deftly shows how an English department succeeds in making Shakespeare our contemporary at KS3. Here are just two of the wealth of practices (and wide cultural references) for teaching Romeo and Juliet. She gives her students the practical task of creating their own settings of the "ancient grudge" that sparked off the bloody quarrels of the Montagues and Capulets. The results vividly display contemporary relevances. Elsewhere, she introduces the chilling contemporary instance of the Crown Prince of Nepal who, denied permission to marry the lower-status woman he loved, slaughtered many of his own royal family and then killed himself.

Elaine Harris's description of Shakespeare in a Harlow comprehensive is equally impressive. She reports successful methods of teaching Much Ado About Nothing at KS4. After watching Branagh's film, the teacher pulls objects out of a bag, and asks which character is suggested: a pair of spectacles (Leonato?), a black mask (Don John?) and so on. Working on the episode of the humiliation of Hero (always productive of heated discussion), Harris details ways in which students may work on the scene, for example a "morning after" television forum; researching contemporary attitudes towards honour; searching out examples of "misprision" earlier in the play.

But the contributors to Blocksidge's volume are ill-served by the publisher, who charges a ludicrous pound;50 for its 166 pages in hard. The paperback, not due until May, is provisionally priced at pound;19.99. It's as if Continuum doesn't wish teachers to read these helpful chapters.

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