FIU is shaping the way Shakespeare is taught in local schools.
In partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the university has teamed up with local middle and high school teachers for the “Symposium on the Study and Teaching of Shakespeare.” The symposium has covered topics ranging from how to teach select works, including Hamlet and Macbeth, to music of Shakespeare’s period, and Shakespeare and film studies; it will culminate with lesson plans educators can use in their classrooms.
It is just one of the many events leading up to the arrival of the First Folio –the first complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays– to Miami. As part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s national traveling exhibit, First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, the folio will take up residence at the FIU Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum February 2016.
The monthly gathering of educators is starting a conversation on how to best teach the plays and poems of William Shakespeare in an era where digital media and textspeak are the norm, and in a community that seems so far removed from the bard’s 17th century England.
“There is not one good answer as to how to best teach Shakespeare,” said James Sutton, chair of the FIU Department of English. “As educators, we all share that struggle of working through his language without reducing its beauty and power. It’s exciting to be able to come together with our colleagues and figure out how to reinvestigate well-known plays, or how to use film, or how music can bring the period to life.”
Rudy Amaral teaches 9th and 12th grade English at Felix Varela Senior High School. He wants to incorporate history from the English renaissance into his lesson plans, which is what drove him to participate in the symposium.
“I don’t think most of us fully grasp how much influence King James I and the House of Stuart had on the play Macbeth, for example,” Amaral said. “What was going on in Shakespeare’s environment really influenced his writings. I think when you can connect literature to events of the time, it really helps to better understand the material.”
Lissette Monzon currently teaches honors English to 10th and 12th graders at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School. She has been teaching for 22 years and has taught Shakespeare at the elementary, middle and high school levels. For Monzon, the symposium was an opportunity to evaluate her own approach to teaching his works.
“I wanted to see if there was something I could do to freshen up how I teach Shakespeare. Sometimes you’ve been teaching something for so long you can forget the little nuances,” Monzon said.
Some argue Shakespeare’s language is too difficult for today’s audiences to understand. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will commission playwrights to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English. Venues in Alabama, Florida and Utah have also signed on to produce some of these translations. But, the reality is, Shakespeare’s words are still spoken 400 years after his death by schoolchildren who barely recognize the bard’s English. This is the case for Sutton, who has been teaching at FIU for more than 20 years.
“Shakespeare’s language is hard at every level. It’s rare when you find a student who naturally gets it,” Sutton said.