Shakespeare Today (Part 1): Ask the Authors

This special anniversary year offers unique opportunities for introducing your students to the world and work of William Shakespeare. Finding new and inspiring ways of bringing Shakespeare’s plays to life is essential to engaging children in the classroom. With this in mind, we’ve asked some of our authors and experts to share their first encounters with Shakespeare and to provide some hints and tips for teaching Shakespeare.

What was your first encounter with Shakespeare?

“I have to confess that I hated Shakespeare at school! I hated having to look up the meaning of passages. But as I too “dared” to write I realised the wealth of story making contained in his plays.” – Giancarlo Gemin, author of Cow Girl

“Reading his plays aloud at school and not understanding a word of them!” – Jill Carter, Advanced Skills Teacher and OUP author

Have you ever acted in a Shakespeare play and what stands out about that experience?

“I went to an all-girls school and as I was taller than a lot of my school friends, I tended to be cast as one of the male characters. In fact, I had to wait until I was at University before I got my first female role! I played Lady Macbeth in a touring production of Macbeth. The play has a reputation amongst theatre folk for being unlucky and the production that I was in did nothing to disprove these superstitions. The actor playing First Witch broke her leg; Duncan left his crown in a dressing room in Cork; Macduff lost his voice and I had a scary encounter with a large rat in the theatre green room that put me off the glamour of the acting profession for ever!” – Su Fielder, Senior Examiner in English and Drama and OUP author

“No, but I remember the first time I saw Shakespeare acted in a theatre – after 6 years of reading the plays, I saw Othello and I completely understood and loved it.” – Jill Carter, Advanced Skills Teacher and OUP author

Why do you think Shakespeare is still relevant to young people today?

“Shakespeare’s plays are still relevant because they will always appeal to our fascination with love, life and laughter, as well as the darker side – murder and death.” – Giancarlo Gemin, author of Cow Girl

“The themes, the stories, the depiction of human nature as we all really are. He knows us inside out.” – Jill Carter, Advanced Skills Teacher and OUP author

What are your top hints and tips for teaching Shakespeare to young people?

“My students always enjoy a session where they are asked to ‘translate’ a chunk of dialogue into modern day speech. It works best in pairs. Try sections from the lovers’ quarrels in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Iago and Emilia’s dialogue from Othello or Hamlet’s exchanges with Horatio or Gertrude. Pairs of students then act out their new modern version and then the whole group transfer all the meaning and energy into Shakespeare’s original dialogue.” Su Fielder, Senior Examiner in English and Drama and OUP author

“Point out how often Shakespeare is used and re-used in films and musical adaptions: West Side Story = Romeo and Juliet; The Lion King = Hamlet; 10 Things I Hate About You = The Taming of the Shrew; and my favourite: Verdi’s opera Otello is based on Othello.” – Giancarlo Gemin, author of Cow Girl

“First of all, make it relevant – encourage discussions about the Iagos in the playground and the Romeos/Juliets in all our hearts. Secondly, keep it playful – unravel the language by using lots of slang and informal contemporary equivalents to what the characters are saying. Lastly, use contemporary ideas – Juliet is a Leo (born on Lammas Day Eve 31st July), so why not get a detailed description of Leos from an astrology site or book and consider how far Juliet fits these traits?” – Jill Carter, Advanced Skills Teacher and OUP author

We’ll have more top hints and tips for teaching Shakespeare in our next blog post – Shakespeare Today (Part 2): Top Tips for Teaching Shakespeare.

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