"Teaching Shakespeare Through Exercises on Acting and on the Basic Emotions"
I did not have time to develop this exercise in detail, but the idea is worth relating. I began with illustrations of juxtapositions in Shakespeare, such as the sudden change from the fussing servants who occupy the stage and Capulet striding in with his splendid hosting.
Under this heading, I put the familiar juxtapositions of youth and age, individual and society, freedom and responsibility, city and country, nature and culture, etc., which run through Shakespeare. But in addition, I used this exercise to point out the parameters of the plays.
For example, Romeo and Juliet I.v. has a wide range of strong contrasts:
Noticing such polarities helps students define the world of the play
and provides a backdrop that helps give the principal events a sense of
context, naturalness, and inevitability.
Noticing juxtapositions can open additional dimensions of the plays. In King Lear, for example, juxtaposition sometimes replaces dialogue as a means of development (as in III.iv). Of course, plays themselves progress by juxtapositions of events that we label "scenes." And, as when Hamlet meets Osric or Romeo meets the Apothecary, there are symbolic juxtapositions in which major issues take human form and speak before us: the changed meet the unchanged--the tragically transfigured idealist meets the man made ordinary by the compromises of survival.
In these four series of exercises on the basic emotions, I attempted to start from the student's own experience and work from there to the text. I believe that literature is best taught when personal awareness and depth of reading both increase together. Students prepared in advance by such exercises may be better oriented to respond to Shakespeare than whose who approach him cold. I tried to overcome students' tendency to be overwhelmed by great authors, by starting from, and valuing, their personal, limited--but very own--experience.
Most of these exercises were based on small group work. I divided the class and gave each group some task it could accomplish on its own and share with the class. The tasks allowed leeway for individual response and required that students take charge of their own groups. During such exercises, I circulated among the groups just long enough to plant ideas or listen or offer a direction -- then left them to pursue it on their own. Any teacher who follows such an approach must cultivate the capacity to respond to, appreciate, and praise those small, delicate expressions of individual risk and growth. It is as different from lecturing as child-rearing is from running a business.